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body liberation exercise Living While Fat My Story

Yoga and (Dis)Ability

Recently I took up yoga again. I have always enjoyed yoga, when I have been able to find welcoming, supportive contexts in which to practice. I have never gotten a regular practice going because, first, honestly it hasn’t been a major priority and, second, it is hard to find a studio and an instructor that work with all of my limitations.

My beloved nutritionist, to whom I have referred on this blog many times, is also a yoga teacher, trained by Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga Studio. I have been lifting weights very consistently for the past few months and was feeling fit/brave enough to try yoga again, so I signed up for her weekly class. This class is a body liberation, trauma-sensitive yoga class currently taught via Zoom.

It has been an interesting experience. I really can’t do that many poses. My legs aren’t bendy and I have trouble staying on my feet for long, particularly in balance poses. I have to modify just about everything, using straps, blocks, chairs, bolsters, you name it. Last week I had to do several of the hands-and-knee poses upside-down like a capsized turtle. Sometimes I feel like a complete cripple trying it, especially when I end up sitting and looking at the screen for a whole sequence.

The instructor really tries to provide as many modifications as possible and will specifically stop to help me figure out a way to do a similar stretch when I can’t do a pose. She really cares about my experience and no judgment whatsoever comes from either her or my classmates. All the judgment comes from me. After a long, tiring day, flummoxed by a warrior pose, I feel like a gimp. In fact, maybe I am a gimp. I have trouble walking and get out of breath easily. I’m not flexible, can’t put my weight on my knees…

I asked my psychologist about whether I should consider myself handicapped and stop fooling myself. I asked her if I should just start advocating for accommodations and give up pretending. She said I was asking the wrong question. She said I should be asking why it matters to me whether I bear the label “handicapped.” She said I was creating a false dichotomy, that I should advocate for what I need AND keep fighting to be active in my body. She is right of course, but it still hurts.

On a normal day, I live in a comfortable cocoon (especially these days) that is mostly constructed to de-emphasize my limitations and help me function. I even exercise in ways that don’t stress me too much–weightlifting and swimming. Yoga pushes these boundaries. It makes me face the reality of my (dis)abilities.

I suspect this is healthy. In any case, I plan to keep trying. First, I think I can get better. Second, I don’t think I can afford to give up. Even if I continue to steadily lose ground, I’ll lose more if I don’t fight. But third and most important, after most yoga sessions, no matter how awful I feel during the class, I feel better. Yoga stretches me out, calms me, and helps me to reside fully in my body. Some days, that body is not a happy place to be, but it is my home and I owe it the dignity and respect of fully experiencing it.

Categories
Activity Living While Fat My Story

Cleaning House

Ordinarily, I have a houeskeeper. I have had a cleaning service since I was in graduate school, even though we were poor(ish) and couldn’t afford it. It was a priority among luxuries for me, because I like a clean home and I hate to clean. Not just hate it, but am bad at it. Even when I was young, fit, and energetic, my attempts to scrub a bathtub were pathetic. And this was at a time when I was lifting weights three times a week.

For the past few years, we have had a wonderful housekeeper who has taken over our lives–she cleans, does laundry, puts things away wherever she damned well pleases, sometimes brings her husband to change lightbulbs and do other “guy stuff” around our house. She is so deeply integrated into our lives that it is hard to live without her. We called her once in the middle of the night because the dog vomited in the bed and we couldn’t find clean sheets.

Living without her is exactly what we have been attempting to do for the past 7 or 8 weeks, with the quarantine. Let me tell you, I hate cleaning as much as I ever have. And worse, I am now not fit enough to manage it even if I can get up the will to try. This 43-year-old superfat body just doesn’t buy the idea that kneeling on a tile floor and leaning into a tub is viable. She barely wants to stand and push around a vacuum and she certainly doesn’t want to dust blinds.

Trying to clean makes me feel disabled in a way that very little else does. I have limited physical function and fitness, can’t walk very far without a break, can’t run or jump, and have trouble getting to and from the floor, but I don’t usually feel disabled, just limited. To me, disabled has always had a strong implication of unable, not less able.* And I rarely feel unable. But when I try to clean, I feel unable. I actually can’t clean a house, or even a room, in one go.

My husband has been expressing frustration with me for not participating fully in his attempts to keep the house in order without professional help. It’s clear that he thinks that I am shirking, or lazy. I am shirking. And I am unable to do more. I might be able to do a bit, and probably would, if I wasn’t under his watchful, judgmental eye as I tried to lift and pull and push and all. It’s an observer effect–with no one watching, I can try and have a 5% success be a success, but with him watching somehow it is definitely a 95% failure.

What I’ve learned over the past two months is I really, really need help with my house. This is a place of privilege, and I know it. I oscillate between guilt, shame, and resolution. I mean, should I really get to have this gorgeous old micro-mansion (it’s just a good size house, but it looks like a mansion on a small scale) if I can’t take care of it? On the other hand, if I can afford it, use the money to support people who need jobs, and use my time to do other useful things, is it really so bad? I wish I knew.

*I have begun to read a tiny bit about disability studies and I realize this is an ignorant, useless definition of disability but it’s what is in my head at this moment.

Categories
Depression Eating Disorders Living While Fat My Story

ARFID rears its ugly head

I have eating disorders. Two, mainly. ARFID and Binge Eating Disorder [BED] (with occasional visits from the Anorexia and Bulimia fairies). It took me many, many years to acknowledge that I had an eating disorder at all. I thought I just ate too much. I thought it was because I was weak willed or addicted or some other thing. Now I know that the reason I eat too much consistently over time is because of my deeply disordered eating. I’ve posted before (see links above) about what the DSM V has to say about eating disorders. Spoiler: It’s very simplistic and reductionist and not exactly body positive.

In any case, I have been diagnosed with BED for five years or so, although it hasn’t been nearly that long since I accepted the diagnosis. Having BED means I dissociate when I am eating and eat far too much at individual sittings, to the point of becoming sick. It means I prefer calorie dense foods. It means I need to feel full to feel safe and comfortable.

But it turns out, it’s not the point. The first term I heard the term “ARFID” was about a year ago, when I met my current nutritionist, who is an ED specialist. She did my intake interview, and asked if I had ever heard of ARFID. No, I hadn’t. What was it? ARFID–avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder–is a food/eating anxiety disorder. Food makes me anxious and it is hard for me to deal with preparing or eating complex or highly variable foods. I avoid fruits, vegetables, fatty meats, anything that might spoil or be mushy. I’m hypersensitive to the texture and smell of my food. And if a food turns me off once, it can take me a very, very long time to try it again. Classic ARFID anecdote: I once tried, in a diet context, to eat a piece of pineapple in front of a group of friends. I bit down, got one hint of the texture of the stuff, gagged, spit it out, and choke/cough/gagged for about five minutes. Needless to say, breakfast was over.

I am finding ARFID much harder to fight than BED. I believe now that ARFID is the root disorder–at some point in my early childhood I became deeply anxious about food–and that BED is actually a coping mechanism to keep me from starving to death. When I am dissociated I can eat, which, honestly, is a relief after the way the ARFID makes me feel. I eat so much partially because I subconsciously know that my ARFID is going to keep me from eating again until I am famished and I need to “stock up.”

It is probably no surprise that in this most anxious of times, the ARFID is in control again. Over the past 3-4 weeks, there has been incident after incident of me panicking over food, refusing to eat until I am in pain from hunger, and being unable to feed myself or, sometimes, even move until I am hand-fed by my husband. I wept over a bloody egg. I panicked over a bag of vegetables and shoved it in the fridge still in the supermarket bag. I went to bed hungry (a lot of times).

My nutritionist says that many of her ED patients are experience an exacerbated tendency to restrictive food behaviors right now. It’s the anxiety. It’s so hard to care for oneself in general, and when you have an ED (or more than one) it is already harder. I don’t actually know what to do. I’m becoming dependent on my husband, who is learning to spot the signs that I’ve gone into an ARFID state. I ate twice today. I can remember only one day in the past two weeks when I had more than three eating episodes, and most days are either two, or two plus a middle-of-the-night panicked kitchen run by hubby. I’m regressing and I don’t know what to do, how to get out. The feeling of not eating, the knowing that I am not gaining weight even in enforced idleness and surrounded by a food-filled kitchen–it’s enticing. I don’t know how to beat it or even start fighting it.

I will say this, though–if I see one more meme about people getting fat right now and grazing too much, I am going to punch a wall.

Categories
body liberation Depression Living While Fat My Story

Self-Image

When you close your eyes, how do you see yourself? Like most properly acculturated fat people, for my entire life, when I have closed my eyes and visualized myself, I have seen a “normal girl,”* maybe a little curvy but basically thin and fit and pretty. I feel that I am a pretty typical fat person in having always thought I was “a thin person trapped in a fat body.” But you know what? I’m not. I’m fat. Fat is me. I’ve been fat my whole life–the first time I was openly called fat by others was in kindergarten–and my fatness is intimately tied up with my self identity, my life experience, and really everything about me. Isn’t it high time that my self-image matches reality?

Well, apparently, at long last and without fanfare, it does. Just about a week ago, for the first time, I happened to be thinking of myself with my eyes closed and I noticed that saw myself as I actually am. It was a surprisingly weird experience. I was confused. Who was this woman in my head? Turns out she was me. And she didn’t bother me. She didn’t offend me or gross me out or make me feel ashamed. She was just me how I was.

A couple of days later I had another related experience. I was lounging in bed in my sleep shirt and I happened to catch sight of myself in my tall mirror. And my first, instant thought before my frontal lobe kicked in was “I look cute!” I had a positive reaction to my belly!

I give credit to the fact that I have been regularly taking pictures of myself and posting them. Not only am I getting very used to looking at the shape of my body, but I am luckily getting used to positive feedback and positive, if sketchy, attention from men online. It’s actually very rare for me to get any negative responses. I realize that if I stay online long enough and get enough Instagram followers, trolling is inevitable, but in the meanwhile I have discovered that there is an entire community of fat-loving men out there and it is like a soothing bath on my skin to be admired.

I do realize that I need to be careful about such things–and to be clear, I am happily married and not looking for anything or anyone else–but the reality is that after 43 years of being embarrassed of my body and assuming no one would ever want me, this is huge. And yes I do also realize that I have been happily married for over 20 years to a man who manifestly does want me, but I always assumed that was just a fluke, that he loved me in spite of my body not because, and that he might veer off at any moment.

This business of knowing and accepting my body as me, and even enjoying how it looks and feels, and knowing and accepting my body as desirable, well, it’s a lot, in a good way. I don’t know how things will proceed from here, but it sure will be fun to find out.

*Notice the use of “girl” here, which is another whole story by itself; a story about sexism and our culture, lack of respect for myself as an adult, etc etc etc.

Categories
Activity body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Exercise

Is “exercise” a diet culture word? Is it “diet culture” to want to work out to the point of feeling some soreness the next day, to push yourself and want to develop strength and tone? I am not sure. My nutritionist often gives me push back for using words like “workout” and “exercise” and my HAES trainer always seems a bit perturbed if I experience any soreness. But for me, working out is a source of joy. I really enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, of trying things I don’t know if my body can do. Of getting stronger.

The pain that comes from mildly tearing muscles while lifting heavy weights, that sense of not knowing if I can finish a certain set or even rep, the feeling of trying to truly push my strength limits–that works for me. I am very strong. I have always been very strong. I have slow-twitch muscles, so even at my fittest I could never keep up at any kind of aerobic exercise, but when I am working out regularly I can leg press hundreds and hundreds of pounds and do other very heavy weights on weight machines.

How do you separate that from the urge to over-exercise in order to burn calories, lose weight, make certain body parts (like your upper arms or belly) look how they are supposed to look? I genuinely don’t feel like my tendency to do heavy strength training is a diet culture holdover. My tendency to do 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, maybe. The strength training, no.

So what about the terminology? Is it ok to say that I am “exercising,” that I am “working out” my body? My husband often likens me to a prize racehorse, because I am in constant need of care and service. And what does one do with a prize race horse? One trains it. One works it out. One gets it ready to do its very damned best at the physical contest it lives for. Is it so wrong that I want to do the same?

This is a genuine question. I cannot decide if I should be worried about my perspective on this being twisted by diet culture, even though it doesn’t feel twisted in my head. With several professionals giving me pushback on working out and straining muscles and feeling “good pain,” I wonder if I am the one who is confused.

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Living While Fat My Story

The New Normal

Finally, I feel like I am up to speed on a fairly good new routine. Here are some things I am doing:

  • Being really careful about my morning routine, including showering, dressing, meditation, breakfast, and meds.
  • Posting my outfit and makeup on Insta every day, as a way of making sure I really do get dressed and “presentable.”
  • Doing some fitness every day. I now have a zoom HAES personal trainer, and we have appointments three times per week. I have also subscribed to Curvy Yoga Studio. If you are a user of that site and have favorite videos, let me know–I am still trying to figure out which one is best! We are also trying to get outside and walk our dogs in the evenings. That has only happened once so far.
  • Being vigilant about journaling and trying to blog more regularly too.
  • Working to organize my house 30m per day.
  • Trying to keep a work routine. It is virtually impossible and probably unnecessary for me to work a full eight hour day most days right now, but I am trying to do work everyday. My work to-do list is so much shorter than usual, and has virtually nothing genuinely urgent on it, which makes it hard to focus.
  • Doing some crafts every day, including making masks for my doctor relatives.

Here are some things I am not doing yet:

  • Cleaning my house–my husband is being really great about straightening up, but the time will come soon when things need to be scrubbed and I genuinely don’t know how to do that. It will be fun. I’m nervous.
  • Eating well. I’m trying to stabilize my eating and we are doing well at having discrete meals and sitting down to eat dinner more than usual, but my eating is still a mess. Lots of heavy comfort foods.
  • Reading/Studying–this seems like a great time to read some of the large stack of serious books on my shelf and/or learn a new language or subject, but somehow I haven’t gotten that far.

I hope you all out there are finding things to do and figuring out ways to get out of bed and live a productive life. What are you doing to keep yourself moving–literally and figuratively?

Categories
Eating Disorders Living While Fat My Story

Eating in Lockdown

Ok, I’m not really in “lockdown,” but we are under a “stay at home” order and I haven’t been out in days. And eating is hard. Or…too easy.

For most of my adult life I have not fed myself. I eat a lot of takeout, restaurant food, fast food, prepared foods…you get the idea. So now that I am stuck at home it is a big change for me. For the first time in years we have tons of food in our fridge and freezer and pantry. We have been cooking–not all the time, but every day or two. This would all seem like a positive change, and I hope it will be.

The issue is that I am eating too much. I know a lot of people who are saying that they are having trouble keeping out of the kitchen, that they are grazing all day, and are “going to get fat.” I don’t actually have that problem. In fact, left to my own devices, I apparently tend to ignore my bodily needs for hours on end.

Yesterday evening I ate dinner around 6pm. It was a large meal–hot dogs, cheese and crackers, ice cream sundae, poptarts–and I wasn’t hungry again before bed. At 1 am I woke up ravenous. This is a pattern I have. I eat a large early dinner and don’t eat in the evening. I wake up hungry in the middle of the night. And then I don’t get up and eat. I go back to sleep, even if it takes a lot of work to do so. When I wake up in the morning, I am rarely super hungry–it takes my stomach about an hour to “wake up.” So it ended up being 9:30 today before I ate again. 15 1/2 hour fast. I know, I know, it’s all trendy to do 16 hour fasts every day–but at least for me, this is not healthy. Because the result is another huge meal–this time a large-ish frozen quiche and a large slice of leftover birthday cake. And then digestive unhappiness, wasted time, and discomfort.

How to break this cycle? I’m supposed to be keeping food by my bed so that I can eat when I wake up hungry. I even have a mini portable fridge/cooler to use for this purpose. I just don’t want to use it. It’s a holdover from diet culture. Only losers eat at night. Evening eating and–gasp!–night eating are the marks of the devil. It is a sign of good “willpower” to make it until morning to eat. When you’re done for the day you’re done. I need to get over this but for whatever reason it is more firmly stuck in my brain than most diet culture adages. And I need to work on self-compassion on the subject–but self-compassion is one thing and my body’s physical distress reaction is something else.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Body Image, Gender, and Sexuality

I’m learning to accept my body as it is. It’s not always easy–it comes and goes–because I am very, very fat. Somewhere on the edge between superfat and infinifat, depending who you ask. Some days I am completely at home in here, and other days I feel like a caricature of a human being.

The thing is, I have been married a very long time (20+ years) and before that I never had any serious sexual or romantic relationships. I would have told you back then that I was entirely unattractive and no one would ever want me. For the first three or five years of my relationship with my now husband, I held my breath–not knowing if he was with me in spite of me being fat, and would one day “wake up” to my hideousness and move on. Eventually it became clear that he truly loved me, but even now I don’t know whether his appreciation of my body falls into the category of a fetish.

Now that I am learning to normalize the diversity of shape in the human body, I have certainly accepted that many different body types can be attractive. I spend time on Instagram admiring selfies of all sorts of people. But am I attractive? If I were to put myself out there, would men be interested in me? If they were, would it be “real” or would it be a fetish? What does that even mean? Is it possible for a person as far out from the norm as I am to just be attractive, or must there always be a frisson of the weird and taboo about me?

A related question is that of gender identity. I am a cis woman, and always have been, but I won’t say I’ve never had trans thoughts. Being a woman in a man’s world (and my work world is even more of a man’s world than 2019 America is in general) is not easy. I am a strong, assertive, impulsive, conflict-accepting personality. Combine all that with my body image issues and consistent self-desexualization, and you have a recipe for a person who wishes they were a man. I have done so for many years. I like to lip sync to the radio, to songs with male vocalists. Sometimes, just at the peak of the song, just for a moment, I can believe his voice comes from my throat and I am truly a man. And then the image snaps and I am back to confusion.

I would have guessed that if I ever became free of my mental issues, I would become more, not less, trans. Trans is something our culture frowns on, so wouldn’t I be more willing to be openly trans if I were free?

Apparently not. The further I go in this body liberation dive, the less trans I am. I guess it’s not really odd. I’ve never been so at home in my own body. In all its plush, padded, feminine soft glory. I’ve started wearing makeup, jewelry, skirts and dresses. Even perfume sometimes. I primp before going out. I love being a girl, and I identify with women. I crave friendship with women. I read feminist writing and watch feminist works. Maleness has become so foreign to me that the idea of wanting to be a man is pretty much horrifying.

I no longer fantasize about being a man but instead think about smashing the patriarchy so that no one ever has to wish they were a man for purely political/social reasons ever again. So that true gender identity and expression, as well as sexual identity and expression, can win free and be based on what’s inside, not on the outside. And so that all bodies, no matter how far from the “normal” look, are free to be fully themselves, fully sexual, fully loved.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Weight Stigma Awareness Week

It is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association. My recent experiences have made me particularly sensitive right now to issues of weight stigma. Normally, I think weight stigma is such a constant hum in my life that it often settles to the level of background noise.

  • Weight stigma is never being able to sit comfortably in your boss’s office because she doesn’t have any armless chairs. (And no, I’ve never had the guts to tell her even though I know she’d be chagrined and fix it immediately.)
  • Weight stigma is being afraid to order dessert at restaurants for fear of getting judgy looks or comments.
  • Weight stigma is having to allow extra time to get to meetings because the elevators are much further than the stairs. And, even more, weight stigma is never taking the stairs because no one likes the sight of a fat person sweaty and out-of-breath at a meeting.
  • Weight stigma is never, ever getting to try clothes on in stores because there are no brick-and-mortar stores which sell clothes in your size.

The constant burden of having to be aware that you are “too” big and that things you sit on might break, that people you talk to are probably already judging you before you open your mouth, that you are assumed to be lazy and not care about your health–it’s a lot.

I’ve been learning lately to advocate for myself and to handle situations that make me anxious or upset with directness–with forthright statements of what I need to be safe, mentally and physically. I’m proud of myself for that. I’m trying to also become more alert to issues others might have that limit them in other ways–so that I don’t become the person imposing stigma on someone else.

Too, I think weight stigma can be more subtle than people on Instagram say. It is actually more expensive to produce larger or sturdier items like chairs, clothes, and airplane seats. It can put a strain on a business to meet those needs consistently. I dislike that my clothes often cost more than those of a thin person, but I actually need significantly more fabric to cover my ass, and fabric costs time and resources to fabricate. So I don’t judge a company if they charge more for larger sizes.

I do judge large corporations and public venues if they don’t provide any options for fat people. I’m an outlier on the fatness scale. Most people can fit in normal chairs. But if you are going to build a 300 seat auditorium, why not make 5 of those chairs extra wide? Not only does that not cost very much extra or significantly reduce capacity, but it shows an awareness and sensitivity that has value to everyone. (And if you are sensitive enough to build your auditorium that way, why not go the extra step and put up a sign asking thin people to sit elsewhere?)

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where, even when being big created some inevitable frustrations due to actual physical difference, we could work together to find comfortable compromises for everyone?

NEDA has a lot of relevant resources and discussions on their site: nationaleatingdisorders.org.

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Living While Fat My Story

Fat Accessibility

I’m lucky in my life these days not to face a lot of explicit fatphobia. But what I do face, and I think all of us super- or infinifats face, is fat ignorance, fat invisibility, and a lack of fat accessibility.

This weekend I attended a large, many-hour event at an old public building. I was not the focus of the event, but I was supposedly a fairly important player. The experience, from the perspective of my fat-colored glasses, was pretty awful.

The venue had about 30 steps up to get in the main entrance. The elevator was in a different wing and required a long walk each way. I actually walk pretty well so the walk didn’t bother me, but what did bother me was that every time I needed to detour to the elevator I would be forgotten and left behind, or sent ahead and forgotten. The whole large party would do whatever it wanted and as far as I can tell not one person ever asked where I was or why I wasn’t there.

The one and only accessible bathroom was next to the elevator. So every time I had to pee, same story. Again, I’m not talking per se about handicapped accessibility–I don’t consider myself handicapped. I don’t need a handrail or a raised toilet, I just need a stall wide enough to fit my ass. (And I don’t mean that to say that it shouldn’t be more accessible to everyone, particularly the genuinely handicapped, but just to be clear about my needs.) This older building did not have full size stalls except in the handicap bathroom.

The venue did not have chairs. It had strategically placed benches, but those could not be moved. The chairs that had been rented for the event were not sturdy. They creaked when a six year old sat on them so I wasn’t about to try them. I am actually very lucky that the event facilitator had brought two chairs with her that worked for me. One of them was filthy, and I was wearing beige, so that brought us down to one working chair in the entire extremely large building.

The chair had to be carried around by someone everywhere we went. Sometimes the chair would vanish, and I would have to stand, in significant back pain (standing still is the worst for my back), for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for the chair to catch up. Sometimes the chair would be in the wrong place and I would have no choice but to stay with the chair so as not to lose it.

Eventually the people running the venue got pissed and put me in a wheelchair. This was humiliating. It was also very hard to get into and out of because it was soft and tended to tip over. The wheels ran over my dress, undoing my labor of refusing to sit on the filthy chair.

I lost it. I got tired and cranky and I started yelling at people. I was told to calm down. I tried. I felt awful. It was not my event and I didn’t want to cast a shadow on a joyous day. I didn’t want or need to be the focus of attention. So breaking down and getting dramatic about my needs only made me feel worse.

I’m not sure how I could have navigated the situation better. I am working hard to be expressive of my needs and I don’t think that hurting myself on narrow chairs with arms, tiny bathroom stalls, or long flights of stairs without banisters was the solution. I don’t think that not attending was the solution. I don’t think that losing it and throwing a fit was the solution. I don’t have a solution.

All I can say is if you have a fat person in your life and you are planning an event and you want them to feel welcomed and loved, please think of them when you’re planning. The event facilitator had been warned by the event hosts that I would need to sit down for any long stretches when others were standing, and that helped a lot, but that was far from enough to make me feel comfortable and, well, human, through the day.