I have something to tell you

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.

Since I've been writing a lot and connecting with others about self esteem and body image issues, down that same path is the world of eating disorders. I wrote a post where I said I've never been diagnosed with an eating disorder because at my lowest weight I was 117 pounds. I've had behaviors of someone with an eating disorder sufferer, including excessive exercise, purging, starving myself, very low self esteem, obsessing about calories, etc. But an eating disorder, NO, not me!!! Then I read about EDNOS; also known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

Oh shit.

I'm not really one to get hung up on labels. After I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in 2003, I was deeply frustrated at this diagnosis and hated it. I was angry and embarrassed. Then I got over it and figured out it's not my identity. But every time I would tell someone or write that I never had an eating disorder, but could relate with those who had, there was a nagging whisper in my head that said... "liar".

We see on TV and news articles and in movies the severe sufferers of eating disorders. Skeletal, emaciated (usually) women who are near death. Or girls with bulimia or anorexia that have been hospitalized. I know some women who have been hospitalized or have been through treatment and always thought, "Wow, I'm SO glad I was never that girl". I was careful to never claim to have an eating disorder because I have seen the long term suffering people and I didn't feel that mine was ever long term. So I felt like I was almost disrespecting those that had really, really suffered. But there is a reason I get emotional when I see certain videos about eating disorders (like this short one). I do consider myself lucky in that when I was at my lowest point I recognized it and stopped the behaviors on my own. I think it began to happen when I picked myself up and started to heal from my divorce. But I have to admit to myself and to others that just because I was never hospitalized, or suffered major health consequences, or had to enter treatment does not discount the fact that I hid an eating disorder from everyone, including myself.

The reason I'm writing this post is not for a big confession, or to say "wah for me", but to speak for all the women (and men) like myself that may have EDNOS, or disordered eating/fitness (which I think is the same thing). It's everywhere. It's much more prevalent than I ever thought. Obsessing about calories, food, diets or working out is not okay. Having an intense fear of being overweight is not okay. Comparing ourselves to ridiculously thin models is not okay. Neither is talking negatively about our bodies. It sucks the life out of us and robs us of our uniqueness. It perpetuates the cycle of low self esteem and stops us from living the life we deserve and are waiting to live. I'm not saying let's all burn our bras together and start living this blissful, happy life because I know first hand it's not that easy. But if nothing else, let's recognize it. If you are a man reading this, try being compassionate and be comfortable having a conversation with someone you care about concerning this. If you are a woman who has behaviors of an eating disorder, first and foremost, please get help, but if you can relate on my level know that you aren't alone, you're not crazy but that there is hope. I've said this before: Our worth is not measured by the number on the scale. Or by the size of our jeans or even our boobs for that matter. Or how many miles on the treadmill we clock or how many crunches we do.

I'm still trying to figure it all out...sometimes I slip and the old me slides up next to the new me, trying to take my hand and lead me down the wrong path again. But luckily, I am strong enough to recognize her and firmly tell her no.

Photo courtesy of meredith_farmer

A stunning revelation

There is something amazing about finding something you are passionate about. When I decided to do the Dove workshops, I had no idea the impact it would have on my own life. My reasoning for doing it was three-fold. First and foremost, I was keenly aware of the importance of this message and knew I was called to teach it to others.  Secondly, the experience of public speaking was good for me and thirdly, the networking involved would be great too. But I never knew that I would get so much back. Being up at the front of the room, talking to girls about self esteem has done wonders for my own self esteem. Last week I held a workshop for a group of girl scouts and one was the daughter of one of my CSUSM instructors. My professor was there along with a couple of other moms (I'm always glad when moms or mentors are there as well, because even as adults, the workshop is awesome). Afterwards she approached me with tears in her eyes, gave me a hug and said, "I'm so proud of you. You are so beautiful inside and out." The genuineness in what she said was profound and messages like these for me are a little slice of heaven. It made my week. 

Our world is so fast paced and technology oriented, with text messaging, emails, Facebook, Twitter, even blogging makes us lose touch with each other at the human level. But when someone stops to actually look someone in the eyes and tell them something great, it moves mountains.

As I look around the room at all the girls, I see so much innocence and wonder. They see the world with curious eyes, everything is still an adventure waiting to be lived. I can't help but smile when they share a story or anecdote. As the workshop goes on I tend to be able to see the shy ones, the sweet ones, the drama queens, and the one or two that really stand out. I was never that girl that stood out too much so I am always intrigued. She has her own unique personality and I can tell sometimes feels uncomfortable about it. Maybe the other kids think she's weird, but I think she is going to be someone special. I think the workshop speaks to all the girls differently but for this girl, I hope she embraces her unique self. I hope she realizes how special it is to march to the beat of her own drummer and stand out from the rest. I hope she doesn't wish she were "just like everybody else" and try to be someone she's not. I think I wish all these things for her because I am that girl now.

I spent years trying to be whatever society put on me. I looked up to fashion models and actresses and wished that I were different. That if I only had this or that, I would be happy. That if I did everything perfect and looked prefect, the world would love me. How could they not? It took me until I was 31 to realize not only was that unattainable, but exhausting and a bunch of bologna.

I finally learned to love and accept myself when I went through my own personal hell. I finally "got it" (and continue to do so) and then was able to look around and see how many other people were living their lives wishing and hoping to be something or someone else, waiting for something to happen so they could start living. I continue to be saddened by this. Yes, we all have struggles. Yes, we all have complicated relationships and heartbreak. But I keep coming back to this statement I made years ago that made me want to be a life coach:

You only get one shot. One chance at life. It's yours, no one can live it for you. There are no "do-overs". Find what makes you happy and go for it, even if it's small. And love yourself. A lot.

UCLA study on friendship among women

By Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually
counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a
daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress
with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain
friendships with other women. It's a stunning find that has turned five
decades of stress research---most of it on men---upside down. Until this
study was published, scientists generally believed that when people
experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to
either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains Laura Cousin
Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn
State University and one of the study's authors. It's an ancient survival
mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by
saber-toothed tigers.

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire
than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the
hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in a woman, it
buffers the fight-or-flight response and encourages her to tend children
and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this
tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released,
which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming
response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because
testosterone---which men produce in high levels when they're under
stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen; she adds,
seems to enhance it.

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made
in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were talking
one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the women who
worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had
coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were stressed, they holed
up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher
Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I
showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we
were onto something.

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist
after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein
and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research,
scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress
differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin
encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the
"tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain
why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that
social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart
rate, and cholesterol. There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are
helping us live longer.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no
friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another
study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk
of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses' Health Study
from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the
less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and
the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the
results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having
close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking
or carrying extra weight!

And that's not all! When the researchers looked at how well the women
functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the
face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend
and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new
physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends
were not always so fortunate. Yet if friends counter the stress that seems
to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and
even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with
them? That's a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson,
Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and
Women's Friendships (Three Rivers Press,1998). Every time we get overly
busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships
with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push them right to the back
burner. That's really a mistake because women are such a source of
strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have
unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women
do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience.

Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald,
T. L.,Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000).
Female Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not
Fight or Flight" Psychological Review, 107(3),41_429.

Photo courtesy of Studio Duva. (my wedding!)

The Anti-Gym

I couldn't sleep last night. Something has me all worked up.

A few weeks ago I was driving and a radio advertisement caught my attention. It was two girls having a conversation, one asking the other why she had so much beer in her fridge. Was it because she was having a party? "No" the other girl replied, "It's the only way I can get a guy to come over and stay the night. And if he doesn't stay the night, then I need a beer". I was floored. For your viewing pleasure, watch the 30 second commercial here before you read on. This is a commercial for a gym, called the Anti Gym, where "trainers" handcuff their clients to treadmills, throw cupcakes at them and moo at them. I have also seen on a Fox News clip (from the Anti Gym site) that they have a sauna only for people with a body fat percentage under 11 percent for men and 16 percent for women (which by the way a healthy body fat percentage for women is 18 to 25 percent. 16 percent is severely underweight and considered malnourished). The owner of the gym, Michael Karolchyk started his gyms in Colorado and has now opened in my home town, San Diego.

Here's what gets me: Mr Karolchyk claims his clients see results, which I don't doubt they do. His trainers allegedly prescribe clients to only eat 1200 calories per day. If these trainers are certified by an accredited personal training organization, they should be aware that under their certification they are not allowed to prescribe a nutritional diet plan, only a registered dietitian or trained nutritionist is legally allowed to do this (California state law). I won't get into the implications a diet consisting of only 1200 calories can do to a person. So yes, if you drastically cut calories and put clients on a heavy cardiovascular routine, they will lose weight (if you've ever seen the show The Biggest Loser, this is exactly what they do). I would like to know what Mr. Karolchyk's success rate for his clients keeping the weight off? Anyone who has battled weight issues knows that keeping the weight off is more than half the battle. I wonder if Mr. Karolchyk gives a crap about this? Or only cares that he has clients coming in his doors that pay per session.

Perhaps he is a brilliant business man who is laughing all the way to the bank with all his "chubby" clients money. Clients pay per session; they lose weight, leave the gym for a few months and slowly put the weight back on, probably more than they lost when they go back to eating like they used to, 2 to 3 times the amount of calories they were eating when they were working with one if his "trainers" (because in the real world, healthy men and women consume 2000-3000 calories per day). Did I mention that just before he opened up in San Diego he was in hot water with the IRS in Denver for taxes and was caught dumping confidential client information in a public dumpster. He also has happy hour at his gym, offering shots of Vodka as a reward for doing your workout. Drunk people spend money. Mr Karolchyk, you are sneaky.

Now I do agree to some extent with some of his philosophies. I agree that some people need a tough personal trainer to get their butt moving. On the home page of his website is the statement "Have sex with the lights on" and the site has an array of beautiful, provocative women. We all know sex sells, and men come to this gym hoping the girls on his website will be there and the women may join hoping to look like them. Positive motivation? Perhaps. Smart marketing? Yes, indeed. I agree with him in that (unfortunately) we live in a world where everyone is judged based on the way they look and to be attractive is important. I understand the physical implications for being overweight and how important being healthy is.

Both on the outside....and the inside.

I'm assume that's where it ends for Mr. Karolchyk. Make it pretty on the outside at the expense of the inside. I had to take a step back and ask myself what was really making me so upset about this. Yes, the ads are sexist and offensive. Yes, he makes a mockery of overweight people. But several overweight people have written testimonials on his website that they needed this kind of "motivation" to lose weight. I'm upset that I can't find his credentials and have read that he may have none. If this is the case I'm embarrassed that this man calls himself a fitness professional. But I think what pisses me off the most is that Mr. Karolchyk is making a living by making people feel that they are nothing unless they are thin and sexy. He is perpetuating perfectionism, an unattainable ideal body image and disordered eating and exercise. And I would venture to say he is encouraging eating disorders in women if he thinks having only 16 percent body fat is hot and sexy. He is making money off of people's fears of being inadequate. THAT'S what's pissing me off.

Exercise is not about punishment. Eating is not about being made fun of. I feel bad mostly for the women that go to this gym to lose weight only to feel so terrible about themselves when they gain it back, or even if they don't gain it back but can't figure out why they still feel so badly about themselves.

So, to Mr Karolchyk, you claim that all of your "haters" are "fat, bearded ladies" (he actually says this on his website) and that no one will stand up to you that is thin and beautiful and say they disagree with you. Well, I do. And currently I am 5 months pregnant, but I am still healthy, thin and beautiful and I disagree with what you are doing. And I don't have a beard either. But more importantly I am beautiful on the inside, something you wouldn't understand if it was shoved down your screaming throat. I feel sorry for you. I have a feeling your gimmick won't last long because in my opinion you have no integrity.

Photo courtesy of william couch

Sweet Revenge

Sometimes I think revenge is about as natural as childbirth. Everyone has felt it, I think even Gandhi must have had feelings of revenge against someone that had wronged him although he never in his right mind acted on them. But I think it’s our natural defensive instinct as humans to want to get revenge on someone that has hurt us. Maybe not everyone thinks (or acts out) physically or verbally hurting the other person, but at least wishes bad things upon that person.

When I got divorced a few years ago, I had many feelings of wanting revenge because my ex husband had been unfaithful to me. I tried my best to be adult about it even while people told me they would have run over him in their car. But one day I lost it, and while I won’t go into too much detail, I’ll just say it involved scissors and his clothing. And it was more creative than just cutting it up. As I was doing it, I knew I had gone a little bit crazy because of the sheer satisfaction I was getting out of it.

I think another aspect of the energy someone must create when they are angry enough to want to get revenge on someone is that many times their own happiness is determined by the happiness (or misery) of the person that hurt them. For me, for months I loved hearing stories of how miserable my ex was. Quickly I realized how dysfunctional this was and just avoided hearing about him all together. It wasn’t until I forgave him that I didn’t care about him or getting revenge anymore.

Which brings me to forgiveness. I have always struggled with this, as most people do I believe. I don't know how the Amish do it so easily, perhaps it's embedded in their DNA. Going through what I have been through has taught me many lessons, one of them was this: What happened to me had nothing to do with me directly. In other words, I wasn't cheated on because I was a bad person, or because I wasn't pretty enough or skinny enough (all thoughts that I assumed were true reasons). My marriage didn't end because I wasn't good at being married. Something painful happened to me, but not because of me. During my whole ordeal, the woman that my ex husband cheated on me with hated me and made sure I knew it. I couldn't understand why because I wasn't the one that had hurt her, he had. Regardless of her reasoning, I remember thinking of something that I had once heard about anger: Holding onto anger at someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. I felt bad for her for a while and then realized I was doing the same thing. It was then that I forgave my ex for hurting me. Being angry was serving me no purpose. It wasn't going to make it go away, make him right his wrongs, make him unhappy or do anything except hurt me more. So I let it go. And it really was easier than I expected. It was then that all the growth and lessons started to surface and I was able to move on.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com from Patricio Marin