Friday, January 6, 2012
Why meditation might be a better idea than dieting.
So, 2012. I am not quite ready for it to be a new year. 2011 was about making positive transformations and letting go of things that were no longer working. That felt amazing. 2012 is about embracing new things and watching them manifest. That is by far, much more terrifying. (For the record, although the American empire is clearly falling apart, I'm not particularly concerned about the world ending. The Mayans themselves don't actually believe that crap.)
My only new years resolution is to have my important conversations off-line. I have blogged a fair amount about how upsetting internet flame wars can be, especially when related to causes (like queer rights and feminism) that matter a lot to me. I get IRL upset when someone who has no idea who I really am flings accusations at me. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time behind my computer with my day job, and my limited time/energy to be social so it's a convenient venue to discuss important issues, but again, not an ideal one. I guess this is part of why I'm returning to graduate school: to conduct intellectual discourse with warm bodies. So anyway- I'm doing my best to stay away from internet drama in 2012, which is semi-challenging given that I'm a regular blogger for several websites, and I semi-regularly write about touchy issues. I'm going to do my damndest, though.
So the classic New Years resolution is weight loss, yes?
I've been meaning to write another angsty fatty post for a while now. I gained about 20 pounds in the past 8 months. Not coincidentally, this was the exact same amount I lost 2 summers ago during the highly effective if involuntary broken refrigerator diet. Not coincidentally, this weight gain correlated with a number of stressful/intense factors in my life, most of which are too private to talk about here. This was kind of psychologically devastating for me after over 2 years of either maintaining or losing weight. I think this maintenance was largely attributable to going to the gym a lot, and doing a lot of demanding yoga and pilates classes. Exercise has never enabled me to lose weight, but for some reason it keeps me from gaining new weight. I decided to apply for grad school last April, and suddenly things like volunteer work and conferences papers were sucking up my gym time. I think this is mostly what led to the weight gain, though I notice that if I gain more than 5 pounds there's a sort of snowball effect.
I recently read this article in the New York Times that is vastly depressing. It spells out a lot of things I already knew- that dieting wrecks your metabolism, that it's incredibly difficult to maintain major weight loss, and that a lot of why our bodies are the way they are is genetic. The message it seems to leave is that it's important to eat healthy and exercise, but that these things won't necessarily lead to a major or permanent weight loss without drastic measures and constant vigilance. I certainly have found this to be true. I have never dieted perse, though I tend to go through phases where I am more careful where I eat, and phases where my dietary choices are largely dictated by stress and exhaustion. I have lost weight about three times in my adult lifetime (50 pounds in Japan, and 20 pounds twice in Chicago). Every single time it has come back. Every single time it comes back, it is harder to lose.
So here's the thing. I really do feel like I do the best I can given my circumstances. I have a gym membership, and I go as often as my schedule permits. (Unfortunately sometimes it's a choice between working out or some other, equally important lifestyle thing.)I cook at home and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and protein and whatnot. I understand nutrition. And sometimes I don't fucking know why I get fat. Yes, I drink wine and eat cookies on a regular basis. But I did these things for those two years that I didn't gain any weight as well.
The hardest part is having my doctor make assumptions about my lifestyle and tell me that I'm an unhealthy weight when all my tests indicate that I am, in fact, healthy.
The hardest part is thinking about it every day. Wondering what my fatness has cost me as a member of society- not in terms of dollars, but in terms of discrimination. Feeling torn by my fat positive politics, and the constant external pressure from everywhere. Feeling depressed when my old clothes don't fit. Feeling unattractive and self conscious, and out of control because my body won't behave, and because I can't maintain the extreme lifestyle I'd need to actually lose a significant amount of weight, and keep it off against the odds.
This shit is exhausting, y'all.
I got into it with my gynecologist the last time I had a pap smear. She did her best to be compassionate, but I still felt seriously fucking judged. Her reasoning was that she used to be overweight but then went to Weight Watchers and had managed to stay magically thin ever since.
I think it is hard for people to empathize when they don't have the genetic pre-disposition for being fat (I only have to look at my family to understand that I do), when they aren't biologically wired for food addiction. For the record, being eating disordered is NOT the same as having a drug or alcohol dependency. It is harder on a certain level because you can't quit eating cold turkey. (Well, you can, but it's not a good idea.) And it is hard because our society is just so completely fucked up about food. It's true that people in Japan and Europe are generally thinner than Americans, but they also care a lot more about eating food that isn't total shit. And believe it or not, many of those enviably thin French and Japanese women are legitimately anorexic or otherwise eating disordered- I've observed it first hand. I know that part of the reason I lost so much weight in Japan was the overwhelming social pressure. I was treated so much better when I did.
So, I am also trying to move away from narcissistic OMG MY LIFE IS SO FUCKED type rants, and be pro-active about what I can do to make things better. So here goes.
So yesterday I went to see a nurse practitioner (not my usual doctor) to have a burn looked at (ironing accident, whee!) When she got around to the "let's talk about your general health" part of my visit, I bristled. "I know I've gained weight recently and I know why." I told her defensively. "I wasn't even planning on bringing it up," she said, a little put off. "But is there anything you want to change?" And I broke it down for her, that I exercise and generally eat pretty healthy, but that I'm also biologically wired for fatness, and that I eat to cope with stress. The funny thing is this isn't necessarily learned behavior. My mom says that as a baby I wanted to nurse until I would literally puke. I was born an overeater. Awesome.
I'm also person who is pretty much never stressed out- that's another major health challenge for me, is that I am very susceptible to anxiety and burnout. Some of this is physiological, some of this could be attributed to the fact that I was hospitalized with severe asthma attacks as a small child and put on serious stimulants(including one that is no longer used because of the side effects) to keep me alive. I'm glad to be alive, but I'm fairly certain this might have fucked up my nervous system to no small degree. It doesn't take much for me to get stuck in fight or flight mode.
Anyway, the cool thing about this nurse was instead of telling me to go on diet (least helpful advice ever), she told me that I should consider working on managing my stress. And this actually was helpful advice. If stress is the underlying factor for my bad food choices (which, apart from the fat issue, affect my health in general), then maybe treating the stress directly is more productive that beating myself up for my emotional eating as a response to stress. Yesterday was the final day of a week-long staycation where I managed to keep myself perpetually stressed out by trying to catch up on a massive backlog of personal tasks ranging from house work to grad school essays to freelancing assignments. It wasn't really relaxing or fun. So I went home, and blew off the gym and working on writing, and I spent two hours away from the computer, stretching and meditating and re-building my altars.
I think the hardest part for me is that putting aside time to deal with stress often means neglecting other things- but if I'm calmer, I can probably get more done. Doing yoga or even just lying on the floor twenty minutes is generally less appealing than the dopamine laced physical dissociation of dicking off online for an hour, but I feel a whole lot better afterwards. This should be obvious, but I tend to forget it. It's not going to happen unless I actively make it happen.
I actually attempted to sign up for a weekly meditation class today to this end, but it was full. So instead I'm going to see if I can set my timer for an hour every day to spend an hour offline, getting back into my body and reality after being locked in the desk job and commute cage for ten hours every day. The truth is, I FORGET to do this. I'm in denial of how stressed out I get, or I get self-defeating and hopeless, convinced that nothing I do will make it better, longing for escape. But I'm giving myself permission to neglect other things I could hypothetically be doing to take this time every day, in the hopes it will become habitual.