Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chameleon Life

Did you ever hang out with a Brit and suddenly find yourself speaking with a touch of an English accent?  What about picking up on your best friend’s favorite slang?  I think we’ve all been there, as it is natural to pick up on certain behaviors, mannerisms or speech patterns from the people with whom we spend the most time.  For the people who know who they are on a fundamental level, these superficial imitations don’t really present a problem.  But what happens when you’re not confident in yourself and you don’t really know who you are?  You become a chameleon.  First you adopt someone else’s accent, then you may start dressing like them, and pretty soon your moral code is defined by their beliefs rather than your own.  You end up selling yourself out and living a life that you may not be truly proud of.  I’ve seen this many times throughout my life, but never has it been more rampant than now, in the age of social media. 

People can be whomever they want to be on the Internet.  I can tell you firsthand how easy it is to appear fabulously happy while hiding the pain and imperfections of the life you are actually living.  We are selective about what we share and don’t share, and thanks to those fantastic Instagram filters, we can even make ourselves look like supermodels.  This may seem harmless, but the truth is that it creates a false reality and some impossible expectations that can easily become overwhelming.  When all we see is the very best version of the people around us, even the strongest, most confident people may start to feel like they don’t quite measure up.  I’m not saying it’s all fake, but I’d be lying if I said it was all real.  In addition to making it easy for us to present manufactured versions of our lives, the Internet also gives us balls.  Cojones.  Chutzpah.  There’s something about being behind the protection of our computer screens that makes us believe that we can say anything to anyone.  Too often, we make the mistake of forgetting that we are dealing with real people who have real feelings and that they aren’t just avatars or characters.  Or we become crusaders for a cause on the Internet but do nothing to stand up for that cause in real life.  We dump buckets of ice on our head for likes, but we never actually learn what ALS is or donate money to fund the research efforts.  We become “friends” with people we haven’t seen in 25 years and start to feel like we know them.  We say things like “omg I LOVE her so much!” when really, the only version of her we know is the one that exists online.  Basically, we forget about who we really are and what we really like, and we follow the herd in pursuit of the most likes.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  Guilty.  


Yes, Abe.  Quotes, pics, status updates, articles...you name it, it's been faked.  Nice selfie, btw. 

It is for these reasons and several more that I’ve decided to take a break from Facebook.  It’s something I’ve been on the fence about for weeks.  On one hand, I love Facebook.  It allows me to keep in touch with my family in Maine, share pictures of Jordin, and keep up with my gym family.  I can sell stuff that’s been laying around my house for 2 years on the yard sale page, and I can check out people’s fitness success stories when I need some motivation.  I can keep in touch with fellow instructors and find some useful tips and advice on how to give my members a better class experience. Basically, for every negative thing I listed above, I can list a positive one here.  That’s why I’ve been so torn, and I’ve been praying about this for a few weeks.  Just when I was about to stay just for the sake of avoiding change, I got the sign I had been waiting for on Tuesday night, and now my mind is made up.

I’ve gone through a lot in the last 18 months or so, and I’ve been on one heck of a spiritual journey.  When my husband moved out, I felt like I didn’t know which end was up.  I realized that during the course of our 8 years together, I had really lost myself.  I changed dramatically and became more concerned with being who I thought I should be than being who I actually was.  Somewhere along the way I lost my confidence and became a chameleon, but when he was gone I had no one to mimic.  I had no choice but to ditch my chameleon tendencies and figure out who I really am and what makes ME happy.  Earlier this week, it became crystal clear that wasting my time on Facebook is actually hindering this process.  I love Facebook and I know I’ll miss it, but what I won’t miss is the urge to maintain an online persona that makes other people comfortable.  What I’m really looking forward to is continuing to get to know myself and investing in the relationships that matter to me in real life, because in real life I don’t care about followers, likes or how anything looks with the Valencia versus Mayfair filter.


With that said, please follow my blog so you’ll get updates when I post!  You’ll need to log in with your e-mail address by clicking the link in the top right corner of the page.   The majority of my traffic has always come from Facebook, so please help keep me up and running by sharing the link to my blog with your friends!  And you can still find me on Instagram: @jenaleisha.  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.  Xoxo Jenalee          

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feeling Myself

I haven’t really been feeling myself lately.  I go through these phases, and I think not knowing how to come out of them was a big part of why I struggled with eating disorders for so many years.  It seems that in the blink of an eye, I can go from feeling myself a little too much to wanting to put a bag over my head and hide in my house.  It’s like one minute I’m strutting down Broadway in my sky high heels on my way to work and you can’t tell me nothin’, and by the time I get up to my office, I’m frowning at my reflection in the mirror and questioning every fashion choice I made that day, from my eyeliner down to my shoes. 

So when I realized that I wasn’t feeling myself last night, I decided to spend some time feeling myself…literally.  Okay get your mind out of the gutter and come back to me.  You good?  Okay here’s what I mean.  When I got home from the gym, I drew myself a nice, hot bubble bath and got in.  As I washed my hair I ran my fingers through each strand, thinking about how long it’s getting and how much I really like it despite the grays that are currently peeking out at the roots.  As I shaved my legs, I noticed the definition in my quads – something I never EVER thought I would have, since my legs have always been my biggest problem area.  I thought about the leg workout my trainer put me through last Friday and smiled as I remembered him congratulating me at the end and telling me that I made his day.  He was actually surprised that I made it through what he knew was a brutal hour.  Then I washed my stomach and at first I made a stank face at my lower abs because the skin is not as tight as I wish it was and there are stretch marks and a scar from when I had my belly button pierced many moons ago.  But then I remembered that I carried a baby in there, and that that baby has grown into a beautiful 6 year old firecracker who is my greatest pride and joy.  In the vacuum of my bathtub, with no mirrors, no photoshopped celebrities, no catcalling men, no fellow gym-goers in push-up sports bras and butt-padded leggings, no New York fashionistas looking like Kate Moss thanks to Century 21, Drybar and Spanx, I studied my body and focused on what I love about it, and then I vowed to take those feelings out of the bathtub and into the real world with me. 

Last night I tried not to focus on how my body looks or how it compares to others.  Instead I paid attention to how it feels and what it can do, and then I realized that these things mean a whole lot more than how I look in a miniskirt or whether I see an inkling of a muffin top.  My body has changed dramatically in the last two years.  There were big, quantifiable changes like losing 75 lbs and dropping from a size 16 to a 0, but these aren’t even the things that make me the proudest.  What makes me proud is being able to do a 300+ pound leg press, squatting more than my body weight, and having the core strength to maintain great posture and balance.  I like knowing that if I had to run for my life, I’d have a fighting chance at survival.  I like that I don’t need to ask a man to help me take the air conditioners out of my windows because I can lift them myself.  I like knowing that I possess the knowledge and determination to get my body fat to 15% if that’s what I wanted to do (it’s just not right now, and that’s okay).  Obviously I want to look good too, but I’ve found that when I spend less time obsessing about how I look and focus more on how I feel and what I can do, I inevitably end up even more satisfied with my physical appearance…and I feel a whole lot less crazy and stressed out. 


So even though I woke up late this morning, threw my hair in a ponytail and half-assed my makeup, I’m feeling myself today.  I don’t look my best, but that’s okay because blowout or ponytail, makeup or naked face, sweats or high heels…I still know what I am and what I can do, and I love it.  

       

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Breakfast!!

I love breakfast.  I could eat it all day, every day.  In fact, my perfect world is one in which I can survive on breakfast foods alone.  I seem to have passed on this quality to my daughter, as she requests “breakfast for dinner” regularly, and it has now become part of our Tuesday night ritual: BodyCombat, followed by scrambled eggs, bacon or ham, and possibly a slice of flaxseed Ezekial toast or an English muffin with peanut butter on the side.  There’s never dessert on Tuesday nights because dinner is just so satisfying.  Here are a few of my go-to breakfasts for which I get frequent recipe requests:

Overnight Oats
Base:
1/3 cup rolled or steel cut oats
1/3 cup plain, fat free Greek yogurt
1/2 – 1/3 cup of milk (skim, almond, coconut or whatever kind of milk you enjoy), depending on the consistency you prefer
Your base will stay the same each time, but the toppings are where you get to have some fun.  You can throw in fresh fruit, dried fruit, frozen fruit, peanut butter, nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, peanut butter, flax seeds, chia seeds, fruit preserves, peanut butter, maple syrup, flavored extracts, pumpkin puree, or oh yeah did I mention PEANUT BUTTER?  The combinations are endless, which is why you could eat this every day and never get tired of it.  Mix the base and the toppings together and store overnight in the fridge in a mason jar, almost-empty peanut butter jar so you get those last bits of peanut buttery goodness, or any air-tight container (I like to recycle Talenti gelato jars. Yes, I eat gelato.  #YOLO).  In the morning, grab it and enjoy.  No need to heat it up.  Try it cold!  I was skeptical at first but it’s delish!

Protein Pancakes
Once again, we start with a base and you can play with the recipe after that.  Here’s your base:
½ cup egg whites
1 whole egg
½ cup rolled or steel cut oats (I grind mine into a flour for better texture but you can leave them whole)
1 scoop whey protein powder (any flavor)
From here, you can get creative.  I’ve tossed in everything from seeds and nuts to PB2 to pumpkin puree to raw cocoa powder.  Think of a flavor combo you like and go with it, but make sure the texture of the batter stays about the same.  A friend of mine recommended that you peel and grate about ½ a small zucchini into your pancake batter and I’m hooked on that!  It has little taste but does wonders for the texture.  One of my favorite combos of the season is pumpkin spice pancakes. To the base, I add ¼ cup pumpkin puree, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and I used 1.5 scoops of Fitmiss Vanilla Chai Protein powder (I used the extra ½ scoop to offset the “wetness” of the pumpkin puree).  Mix your batter and let it sit for at least 15 minutes or even overnight.  That will help it thicken and your pancakes will come out fluffier and less eggy.  Cook just like regular pancakes.  For these, I top with a bit of sugar free syrup and a spoonful of Nuts N More Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter.  There are no words to describe how good these are!

Microwave Egg White Omelets
This is my go-to breakfast to make at the office.  Each week I buy a quart of liquid egg whites and grate some low-fat cheese and store them in my office at work.  As part of my Sunday meal prep, I chop any combination of spinach, broccoli, roasted red peppers, red onion, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and portabella mushrooms, mix and store them in an air-tight container that I store in the fridge at work.  Each morning I toss some of the veggies into a microwave-safe dish with about ½ cup of egg whites and microwave for 2 minutes.  Then I top with a sprinkle of the low-fat cheese and microwave for another minute to melt the cheese.  Top with Sriracha if you like a little extra kick!  You can also do this with whole eggs or egg substitute.


Is anyone else hungry?  I want some breakfast!  I hope you’ll enjoy these recipes and come back to share your favorite flavor combos.  Bon Appétit! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#FOODPREPLIFE

I love it when my readers tell me what they want to read about.  You spoke up, so here you go: a post about food prep!  Many of you follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jenaleisha) or Instagram (@jenaleisha) and ask for recipes and tips when I post pics of my Sunday afternoon food prep adventures.  Food prep is such a crucial step to setting yourself up for success, and it’s even more successful when you take the time to write out a menu and shopping list for each week before hitting the store (this saves me money and helps me avoid splurging on snacks that look good but that I know I don’t need).  I find that when I dedicate an hour or two to food prep on a Sunday afternoon, my week goes so much more smoothly.  I have meals and snacks pre-packed in Tupperware so I don’t even have to think about what I’m going to eat for lunch.  Before I leave for work each day, I just grab my Tupperware and go.  This saves me the time of having to think about it, and it helps me avoid the potential disaster that happens when you think, “What should I have for lunch?” when your stomach is growling and you’re pressed for time.  Trying to make healthy decisions when you’re hungry and late is like going to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, credit card in hand, and telling yourself you won’t buy anything.  There’s a chance it might work, but come on now…we both know how that’s going to end. 

There’s so much to talk about with food prep.  I could share a million tips and recipes, but I’m going to start off sort of simple and just tell you what I always have in my pantry or fridge and why.  So without further ado, here’s Phase 1 of food prep: keeping the right foods in and the wrong ones out!

Cardinal Rule of Food Shopping:
Make a list and STICK TO IT.  Cheetos are not on the list.  Put them back on the shelf and walk away!

Now what IS on the list?

Meat: I always have lean protein on hand, usually in the freezer
  • Chicken breasts – I buy these in bulk and use a kitchen scale to cut them into 3-4 oz. portions and freeze individually when I get home.  It’s cheaper and you can just take out as many as you need when you need them.
  • Frozen raw shrimp – peeled and de-veined because ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Any kind of fish – since I’m usually cooking for 1, I buy the individually vacuum-sealed pre-portioned fish filets and just take one out of the freezer when I want it.


Breakfast: Jordin and I love to have breakfast for dinner, so I always have an abundance of breakfast foods on hand, including:
  • Eggs
  • Egg whites
  • Steel cut oats
  • Sprouted whole grain bread – I like that this bread is kept in the fridge or freezer because when you’re just one or two people, finishing an entire loaf of bread can take quite some time.
  • Plain, whole grain Cream of Wheat – I buy plain and add my own flavor with raw agave, stevia, peanut butter, berries, Craisins, etc.   This is typically healthier than buying the flavored packets with lots of added refined sugar.
  • Frozen homemade protein pancakes or waffles – I make a big batch when Jordin and I are in the mood and we never finish them all.  I cook all the batter, then wrap each leftover pancake individually and throw them into a gallon size freezer bag.  When we want them, we warm them up in the toaster oven.  
  • Greek yogurt
  • Fresh fruit


Snacks: for me, planning snacks strategically is of the utmost importance.  I don’t always want to have to cook or even prepare or assemble something.  Knowing that about myself, I make sure I have many grab-and-go options available.
  • Quest bars
  • Raw almonds
  • Vegetable crudités – already cut and ready to eat items like baby carrots, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes.  If I need to cut something like broccoli, cauliflower or celery, this is usually part of my Sunday food prep.
  • Hummus – made from chick peas, it’s a good source of protein and is typically low in fat
  • Reduced fat cheese – string cheese or individually wrapped snack-size cheddar, Monterey jack, etc.
  • Seed crackers – I find them very filling and delicious dipped in hummus or peanut butter (just watch your portions on the spreads…2 tbsp is the recommended serving size).
  • Fresh fruit – another part of my Sunday food prep is washing and portioning all fruit, i.e. cutting up melons or fresh pineapple, etc.


Pantry/Fridge Staples
  • Various types of peanut/other nut butters – if you have to ask why I need various types, we can’t be friends.  But the short answer is that nut butters are a good source of protein, tend to fill you up, and taste good on everything i.e. in oatmeal, on toast, in/on pancakes, in protein shakes, on apples, celery, crackers, stirred into plain Greek yogurt, or a dollop on top of a microwaved Quest bar for a guilt-free dessert.
  • Whey protein powder – choose one that is high in protein and low in fat and sugar.  I use this to make a quick shake with almond milk in the morning because I don’t eat breakfast until I get to work about 2.5 hours after waking up.  This is a good way to jump-start my metabolism as soon as I rise.  I also add it to oatmeal, pancake batters and yogurt for an extra dose of protein on my big training days.
  • Frozen spinach and other frozen veggies – because sometimes I don’t feel like waiting 20-25 minutes to steam or roast veggies.  You can throw frozen spinach in just about anything for an easy serving of greens and some volume.
  • Frozen berries – for when you don’t have fresh ones on hand.  They’re good in oatmeal, yogurt, protein shakes, cereal, or on top of pancakes/waffles.
  • Unsweetened almond milk – I’ve never been a fan of regular milk, but I’m a huge fan of almond milk and coconut milk (or even better: coconut almond milk).  I use it just as I would use regular milk, like in cereal, oatmeal, protein shakes, etc.  Just make sure to get the unsweetened kind in order to avoid all the extra sugar.
  • Dry beans – the whole soaking overnight thing intimidates some people, but not me!  Dry beans literally make themselves and have just a fraction of the sodium you will find in canned beans.  Soak overnight.  Wake up. Rinse and dump them in the crock pot with some low sodium chicken broth, a chopped onion, some Sazón (yeah the white girl went there) and maybe the bone from a Sunday ham or turkey drumstick for a little extra flavor.
  • Brown rice – I buy the boil in bag kind that takes 10 minutes or the individual cups that take just 90 seconds in the microwave.
  • Quinoa – a good substitute for rice and a great source of whole grain and protein.  I like it hot as a side dish or as part of a cold salad (more on that in a later post)!
  • Chia seeds – they’re low in calories, high in nutrients and can be tossed into anything.  Some of my favorites: Greek yogurt, oatmeal or cream of wheat, biscuit/pancake/waffle batters, or sprinkled on top of some fresh pineapple or berries.
  • Various flavored extracts – I like coconut, vanilla and rum the best.  Extracts are powerful (a couple of drops will do) and are a great way to elevate flavor without adding calories.  I use them in batters, baking mixes, oatmeal and Cream of Wheat.
  • Salt-free seasonings – Mrs. Dash is my go-to for salt free seasoning blends.  I also always have cinnamon on hand and put it in just about everything.  Like extracts, spices add flavor without adding calories.
  • Reduced sodium chicken broth - I use this to make pasta, rice, quinoa, and various sauces.  It's got more flavor than water and is still low in calories and fat free.  
Well, that's how I get started: with a well-stocked fridge and pantry.  In future posts, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes and tips on how to make food prep less time consuming and more efficient.  



Sunday, August 3, 2014

The D Word

My divorce was finalized last week, and while it was a very welcome end to a difficult and emotional process, there's something about that gavel hitting the judge's bench that got me thinking very deeply. I realized that there's a lot of stuff that goes on during a divorce that nobody talks about. There's aftermath. There are mixed emotions. There's almost always a regression to adolescence when you find yourselves fighting over coffee tables or 401(k)s. My divorce was relatively simple from a legal standpoint. There was little to divide and we pretty much agreed on how to share parenting time, so on paper it was fairly tidy. Nonetheless, there's just nothing tidy about it from an emotional standpoint. Now I know that my posts are generally uplifting and positive but I have to warn you...I'm about to hit you with a dose of reality that may not be so pleasant. I changed my mind about posting this about 15 times, but ultimately I decided to share, not because I want to put my dirty laundry out for the world to see. Rather, I feel compelled to share my perspective with the hopes of giving back some significance to the institution of marriage. It disturbs me to see how quickly people start and end marriages nowadays. Too many people think about the wedding without giving any thought to the decades of hard work that come after you get back from the honeymoon. Marriage is difficult. Divorce is even more difficult. So without further ado, here's my list (in no particular order) of things nobody tells you about divorce:

That all of a sudden the life you thought was planned so perfectly is gone and you have to start again from scratch.

That there is a very good chance you will face significant financial setbacks, if not total ruin.

That you won't fit in with your married friends because you don't have a spouse and you won't fit in with your single friends because you have a child.

That a part of you goes missing and it almost feels like a death in the family, but you just have to keep on going because there's no such thing as bereavement leave for divorce.

That no one, no matter how much they love you or how well they mean, will understand what it feels like unless they have been through it themselves.

That the fear of ever trusting another human being with your heart is almost crippling.

That you will burst into tears or fly into an irrational rage at the most random moments because of a song, a smell, a name, a place, a memory, or nothing at all.

That you will always worry about the impact it will have on your children, and you will always hold yourself responsible for it.

That you will get so tired of your sadness that you feel guilty being around other people because you're certain that you will just bring them down.

That there's a good chance you'll lose 50% of your family or support system.

That some of your "friends" will choose a side...and it won't be yours.

That you will have to spend about half of the major holidays without your kids, and that will leave a hole in your heart.

That it gets lonely. So freaking lonely.

That to lawyers, court clerks and judges, your marriage is nothing more than a legal agreement, and that they will end it unceremoniously and without fanfare.

That if you are a single parent, you have the same number of things to do, but now you have to do them with half as many hands and half as much money.

That you will go from feeling so free and liberated one moment to feeling so lost and alone the next. This can happen about 48 times a day.

That even though you know how you should be thinking, acting and praying in order to get through it, sometimes you will be simply unable to do what you know you need to do.

That the longer you've been married, the longer it will take to be become reacquainted with your true self versus the version of yourself that you became while married.

That you will find out who really has your back...and who just says they do.

That even if you are a very positive person you will, at some point in time, find yourself at a pity party for one.

That dating can be really fun but it can also suck pretty hard, especially when text messaging wasn't even really a thing and Instagram didn't exist the last time you tried to date someone. And these "advances" just make it extra complicated.

That people will constantly ask how you're doing, and you will constantly reply with a lie. 

That it sucks. Even when it's the best choice, the right choice, or the only choice...it still freaking sucks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Size Doesn't Matter!

It’s funny how things happen.  I’ve wanted to write a post about eating disorders for a couple weeks now, but I was having trouble finding the right words or angle.  This morning one of my FBFs shared this link:


Here are some of the comments that appeared below the link:

"0 is not a size! 0 is nothing!"
“They are marketing to mosquitos”
“I want to be slim and sexy but I want curves.  I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want to fit into a 000.  That would mean I took up crack smoking.”
"I don't want to have the body of a 10 year old. I like my curves."
“You’re fine the way you are. You look like a human…not a lollipop”

And here’s my comment:

I am a size 0 and it is indeed a size. And I have curves. And I'm not skinny or sick or anorexic. I am a healthy and fit woman, no matter what my size. And skinny shaming is just as bad as fat shaming. It doesn't matter what size anyone wears, as long as they are happy and healthy in their own skin. Please forgive the rant, but one of my biggest pet peeves is that people feel they can make derogatory comments about my body now that I've lost weight...and most of them never would have taken license to do so when I was obese.

My FBF who shared the link is not a mean or malicious person at all.  In fact, she’s a friend from my gym who shares a weight loss story similar to my own.  However, her post opened a small can of worms and got me thinking deeply about my own history with eating disorders and how much I worry about raising my daughter in a world where it is completely acceptable for us to make comments like the ones above.  To be honest, my own vanity is what has kept me from sharing my story as it relates to eating disorders.  I have been so afraid that if I share, people will assume my 75-pound weight loss was the result of a dangerous illness as opposed to the dedication and hard work that actually got me there.  But screw that.  You know me and I’m not one to censor, so here goes. 

I remember my first night going to a club in college.  Everyone got dressed up in their shortest skirts, tallest boots and most glittery tops to celebrate one of our first nights of freshman year freedom.  But when I tried to put on my tall boots, they wouldn’t zip over my calves.  And when I put on my skirt, I grimaced at my thick thighs sticking out the bottom.  I changed right away, opting for black pants that hid and slimmed my bottom half and a sparkly low-cut top to draw the eyes upward and show off my favorite asset at the time: the girls.  This was the first of many nights of college insecurity for me, and before I knew it I had adopted some very dangerous habits.  Always an overachiever, I gained about 25 pounds instead of the usual “freshman 15” during my first year of college.  By the summer, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.

I decided to stay in Boston and work over the summer, and my awesome godparents let me live with them.  Most of my friends had gone home for summer vacation and I was staying in the suburbs, so I found myself with a great deal of extra time on my hands.  I started using that extra time to think about things too much…and eat.  I would hide in my room with a bag of snacks that I purchased on my way home from work.  I would eat one snack…then another…and another.  Then I would eat dinner with my godparents and some nights we would go out for ice cream afterward.  If there was any junk food left in my room, I would eat it before going to bed, telling myself that I wouldn’t do the same thing the next day.  But I always did.  I would eat until I was uncomfortable and felt overwhelmingly guilty.  I was so ashamed of my behavior that I thought I would die of embarrassment if anyone found out.  I would even take the wrappers back into the city with me the next day so I could dispose of them in a public place where they could not be traced back to me.  Eventually I began to think of how I was going to gain more weight and be even more self-conscious, so I started to purge after every binge.  My boyfriend found out about a month after I started and demanded that I stop.  The doctor-to-be schooled me on the dangers of what I was doing and started to watch me carefully, making it impossible for me to hit the bathroom after meals.  So I switched it up and began exercising excessively.  I would go to the gym near my office after work each day for about an hour or two, then do step aerobics for 2-3 hours when I got home.  When I finished, I would sit down and calculate the calories I had consumed (since I was still binging) and the calories I had burned.  If it didn’t balance out, I would go exercise some more.            

Most people think eating disorders are limited to anorexia (extremely restrictive eating, if any at all) or bulimia (binging and purging); in fact, I was one of them.  When I began binging, I didn’t even think I had an eating disorder.  I thought I was just embarrassed and that’s why I hid while I ate.  I struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), textbook Bulimia (MIA) and also Exercise Bulimia (EB) without even realizing it.  I dealt with each illness to varying degrees for years, although it was never as bad as that first summer of college.  When I moved to PA in 2007, I was far from my family and friends, driving for more than 2 hours a day and working long hours at a job I hated.  I found joy in visiting drive-thrus on my way to and from work, making sure to choose locations off the beaten path so no one would see me.  I would order tons of food but ask for separate bags so the servers would think I was taking it somewhere to share and not look at me like “Wow! You’re gonna eat all that?”  After my daughter was born, I lost my job and battled with postpartum depression, which eventually launched me right back into BED and resulted in significant weight gain.  I remember eating a box of cookies on the couch one day, spilling the crumbs all over my newborn and crying from the shame I felt as I looked apologetically at my crumb-covered baby.  Fortunately I regained control of my life in early 2012, which is when my now successful journey toward health and wellness began. 

I have been blessed with success that includes relative freedom from eating disorders, a love of exercise, enjoying a “normal” BMI for the first time in years, and the adoption of many new, healthy habits over the last 2.5 years.  But I have to be honest and tell you that I still struggle with my own thoughts.  There are days when I’m at the gym and frown at myself in the mirror because I think I see a little too much jiggle when I’m jumping around in BodyAttack.  There are days when I splurge on a muffin and am overcome with guilt before I even swallow the last bite.  Earlier this year, there were days when I got on stage to teach a class and started to panic inside because I was certain that everyone could see the 10 pounds I gained over the winter.  On the other side of the coin, there were days when I was at my lowest weight and couldn’t stand my body because I lost my hips and breasts somewhere during my journey.  There are days when it just seems impossible to be happy with my body. 


Everyone has something, right?  I guess this is my cross to bear.  I don’t smoke or do drugs.  I hardly drink, and I don’t really have a vice other than food.  Just like an alcoholic has to continuously focus on his or her sobriety, I need to constantly tell myself that it’s okay to eat and even to indulge sometimes.  There’s no need to hide or try to “undo” every caloric splurge; instead I should just enjoy them and move on without obsessing.  This is what I can do personally, but there is so much more that we can do as a society.  We can stop comparing every woman’s body to someone else’s.  We can stop the constant scrutiny of our physical appearance for the purpose of deeming some of us better than others simply because we have lighter skin, smaller thighs, a flatter tummy, more curves, fewer stretch marks, longer eyelashes, a lower BMI, fuller breasts or shinier hair.  We can stop saying exclusionary things like “real women have curves” and “strong is the new skinny.”  We can acknowledge that skinny shaming is no better than fat shaming because we are still passing judgment that isn’t ours to pass.  We can teach our girls (and boys!) to celebrate each part of their bodies because they were made just as God intended them to be: unique and beautiful.  If we don’t set the example and teach our children, how will they ever know?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Intuition


We have all been given the gift of intuition.  It’s that little voice inside that tells you when something is not quite right, even if you can’t explain why not.  Unfortunately we don’t always listen to that very wise little voice.  I think of following your intuition as having faith in yourself; it’s like having the ability to trust your own heart even when there is no proof or evidence to back up “that feeling.”  There is only one reason why I have every ignored my intuition: fear.  And the consequences were severe. 

Many years ago I was in a new relationship that had progressed pretty quickly.  When I met this man, I fell hard and fast and broke all my own relationship rules.  I still remember one of our first fights and I will never forget the moment my intuition kicked in and told me something was wrong.  I had snooped at a Christmas present and then lied about it when he confronted me.  I immediately backtracked and apologized, but it was already too late.  There was no forgiveness; only an extremely angry and over-the-top reaction that resulted in him yelling, unpacking my Christmas gifts one by one, and throwing them on the floor in front of me while I cried, apologized repeatedly and begged him to stop.  This was followed by about a week of the silent treatment.  We lived together at the time, but he would walk right past me as if I wasn’t even standing there, and he didn’t say a word.  I tried to talk to him about it, but he ignored me and went about his business.  When he decided that he was done being mad, he carried on like nothing had happened while I sat there dumbfounded.  My intuition told me to run for the hills and get away from this volatile person, but my heart and my mind were full of fear and talked me into staying.  Since we lived together, there was a level of uncertainty about what would happen logistically and financially if we broke up.  I was also afraid of being alone and of admitting my own failure due to jumping into that relationship way too fast even though I knew better.

Because I ignored my intuition, I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted for much longer than it should have.  I became so fearful of the silent treatment, the invalidation of my feelings, and the days of isolation that I eventually just stopped speaking up about things, no matter how much they mattered to me.  I tried to be okay with everything and only spoke up when I couldn’t hold it in any more.  Even after being isolated for days at a time as punishment for voicing my feelings, I would be so glad when it came to an end that I would welcome back my abuser with open arms simply because it meant that I didn’t have to be shunned any longer.  When things were good between us, they were so good.  But when they were bad, they were painfully, horribly bad. 

My intuition had also told me on several occasions that he was cheating on me.  Again, I let the fear win and I silenced the voice that told me something was wrong.  Eventually I found the strength and courage to listen to that intuition and on that day I received confirmation that he had indeed been cheating with several other women and for quite some time.  Again, the consequences of ignoring my intuition were grave.  I had actually put my own life at risk by continuing to share my bed with a man who had been sleeping with Lord only knows who else.  Not only that, but I continued to lose pieces of myself throughout the course of that relationship.  The longer it went on, the harder it was to leave.  I used to take so much pride in my “spark,” yet I continued to allow this man to snuff it.  By the end of that relationship, I barely recognized myself anymore.  I was a shell of who I used to be.  It is only by the grace of God that I eventually made the decision to stop ignoring my intuition and came up with a plan to get out of the relationship.  Thankfully I did.   

I could have shared a handful of other stories about the consequences of ignoring my intuition…so why did I choose the most personal, painful one?  Well for one, I think it is by far the most poignant story I have to share, and I hope it will get my point across.  God gave us the gift of intuition for a reason, and if we learn to use it properly we can protect ourselves to some degree.  Ignoring it can only lead to regret and a whole lot of “coulda, shoulda, wouldas.”
 

Also, I felt the need to talk about abuse.  I hear so many people talk about how they would NEVER allow themselves to be in an abusive relationship.  I hear women judge other women for “allowing” their boyfriends’ and husbands’ drinking, gambling, drug use, philandering or abuse; they say things like, “I don’t know why she doesn’t just leave!”  I see women who suffer silently and hide it as well as they can because they are embarrassed or feel responsible.  I was that woman for too long, and I am outraged when I think of how I blamed myself for the behavior of another human being.  There are so many conflicting feelings when you are in an abusive relationship.  You want to believe that the charming, handsome person you fell for is still in there somewhere.  You want to believe that your love was real.  You start to wonder if somehow it’s your fault.  You worry about the embarrassment you would feel if others found out.  You fear being alone and starting over.  You feel weak and lose a little more respect for yourself with every day that you stay.  As your self-esteem takes hit after hit, soon you start to believe that nobody else would want you.  And eventually you don’t even know what’s real anymore because you’ve gotten so used to telling lies to yourself and others just to make it through each day.  If this applies to you, please know that it is not your fault.  Nothing you have done could possibly make you deserve this.  You deserve better.  You deserve everything.