Week 44 - What Am I Striving For and Why?

I can't believe my time at Lean Eating is winding down. I'm trying not to panic.  Just because I still have 15 pounds, 10 inches, and another percentage or two point of bodyfat to lose doesn't mean the end of the world.  I don't need to be on this program indefinitely to lose it.  My progress is still ridiculously stalled though.  My weight is just barely nudged down.  My measurements only slightly more so.

This weeks good news is that I went online last week and ordered a ridiculous amount of new clothing.  I had to.  So much of my stuff if just too big now.  I couldn't wear any of my pants.  One of my favorite dresses looked like a bathrobe.  I wasn't even sure what size to order.  I don't know what my size is anymore.  It's tough to shop online, but I have to since the online stores have more petite options and I don't have much time to go to brick-and-mortar stores anyway.  Everything I bought fit me.  I took three bags of clothing to the donation box.  I hope I never need to wear those sizes again.

I have even more good news.  I might be getting another year of Lean Eating (or at least some professional coaching) for free.  Well, not free.  I have to do some work for it, but it's very meaningful work for me. I will address my new project in another post.

Next week is my Lean Eating photo shoot.  This is a required project.  Team members are supposed to put some effort into hair, clothing, and makeup  and then put some creativity to work with a photographer, preferably a professional one.  The idea is to visually celebrate your progress.

I had booked some time with a photographer friend, but while we agreed on a date for the shoot, we couldn't agree on a time. Rather than constantly push back the date for a time we were both available, I have decided to let Kevin do the shoot.  He is a talented hobbyist photographer and should do a decent job.  He has taken good photos of me in the past.  My original intention for the shoot was to just do studio shots.  Kevin is more of a  wildlife and outdoor photographer.  I still plan  do some "studio" shots in workout gear.  I don't know how we'll manage it because there isn't a lot of space in our apartment to hang a backdrop nor do we have good lighting, but we'll improvise something.  The rest of the shots I'll have him do at the barn. I'm thinking of doing some outdoorsy "Town & Country" style shots with me in a dress and scarf and boots walking through the fields and hanging with the horses.  I'll have him do some shots in riding gear too.

This week I have to prepare.  I'll be doing my nails and eyebrows during the week and Saturday morning I'm having my hair done.  I  want a blowout, but I don't want my hair totally straight.  I want it done in waves or big soft curls.  I'll do my own makeup.  I'm pretty good with that.  I am not going to tan.  I know tanning emphasizes muscles, but I just don't think a tanning aesthetic is something I want to promote.  It's not even about whether or not I have a real tan.  If I wanted to go that route, I'd get a spray tan and not go to a bed, but still, I think we need to erase this idea from society that tanning=more attractive.  It encourages unhealthy behavior.

Time for the serious part of the post...

One reason I haven't been losing much weight in the past few weeks is I have been rethinking my eating habits a bit and having a few more indulgences.  I'm trying to make my eating habits more "real world".  I know I'm not going to be able to hold off sweets and starches my entire life. I'm trying to teach myself how to integrate them into an otherwise nutritious diet and still keep myself at a healthy weight.  So far it has certainly kept me maintaining a certain weight, but not losing much.

I have been spending a lot of time lately questioning everything when it comes to eating. There is a rebellion going on in the fitness blogger and nutrition blogger world.  Often in pursuit of a societally acceptable standard of health and fitness in our bodies, we eat in ways that might not be beneficial to our minds.  Trying to maintain a certain body type and a certain dietary standard can veer into orthorexia.  How many of us are walking the line between eating healthfully and flat-out disordered eating?  There are some excellent viewpoints on the topic.

Our society loves to put how we eat into boxes.  We compartmentalize ways of eating, declaring each one to be the one that will bring us optimum health while the others are all bad.  Some are looked upon more favorably than others by the greater society.

For example, veganism is the gold standard of healthful eating in our society.  I think your average American probably sees veganism as something we should aspire to, or at least wish we could do.  There are piles of books out there by diet gurus and celebrities claiming veganism saved their health.  The human race would all be better off if we removed every animal product from our diets. But then writers like Lierre Keith and John Nichols claim just the opposite. Veganism ruined their health. A little research into the topic and you'll find fairly high rates of recidivism due to health reasons in the vegan world.

It's not just veganism though.  Go to the books and websites associated with any diet.  Paleo diets seem to be able to cure every disease known to man if you listen to Robb Wolf or Loren Cordrain and their followers.  Paleo diets (along with their exercise partner, Crossfit)  have an almost cult-like following.  Again, if you do a little research, you will find the internet is filled with former paleo dieters who considered that lifestyle unsustainable and not all that healthful for them.

Do you know people who swore by the weight they lost on the Atkins diet and then a year or two later declared it wasn't for them?  Remember the Zone?  How about the South Beach diet?  Fifteen years ago no one could get enough of those diets and now they have faded into obscurity.

There is no one perfect way of eating.  There is no magic prescription of food that is guaranteed to work better than any other.  Our bodies all respond differently to different foods.  I know for example my biggest advantage is my biggest downfall.  I can eat anything.  I have never noticed any real difference in my body whether or not I eat grains, legumes, dairy, or meats.  I have an iron stomach.  That can work against me.  If I needed to eliminate a food or two, I might eat less.  On the good side, my body would do well in times of famine.  I have a good survivor's body.  I should be proud of that.  I do feel pretty awful physically if I overeat a lot of low quality food, but I can just skip the next meal and feel fine the next day.

One thing I have noticed is that my body needs fat.  I have spent my life joking about a love of greasy foods, but it's no joke.  Without a decent amount of fat in my diet I'm cranky, tired, and hungry all the time.  I probably could go vegan easily as long as I had a steady supply of coconut oil, almond butter, and avocados.  (I wouldn't do it though because even if I could give up the pleasure of a steak or a hunk of nice cheese, desserts are useless without eggs, cream, or butter.) I have friends who are totally turned off by fat and eat as little as possible and do just fine.

The truth is still out there.  No matter how many fads there are, it always circles back to the same concept.  Calories count.

On the other hand, what type of rabbit hole do we fall into when we count calories?  Is it any more mentally healthy to be constantly writing down and weighing  and measuring everything we eat and looking at "points" values and obsessing over your daily inputs in FitDay or MyFitnessPal?  How sustainable is it?  Weight Watchers has just as many people off the wagon as Paleo diets.

I have found only one answer.  We need to perform two major actions to make a change in our bodies. The first is to prioritize fresh food.  I'm not saying, "Eat 100% clean."  I'm saying make fresh foods like vegetables, fruits, and meats, the first foods you eat.  They are the foundation of your diet.  Next you need to eat slowly, mindfully, and intuitively.  Listen to your hunger signals.  Understand what hunger truly is.  Then learn what satiety really is.  How much food do you really need to eat?  Tune in.  Feel your hunger or lack of it.  Pay attention when you eat.  How much food will make you feel as if you have eaten enough to sustain your daily activity?  Remember that it can change from day to day.

Eating this way is a skill you need to develop.  It doesn't come overnight.  You can't just say, "I'm going to eat intuitively now and I'll just honor whatever my body wants."   It takes a while to really understand what your body wants without your brain and all of its noise and desires being in the way.  Weight loss will come slowly this way.  It will be too slow for many.  If you're used to signing up for Jenny Craig and losing 30 pounds in three months, or losing10 pounds in a week after reading the latest diet book, this is going to feel frustrating.  You might go weeks without losing anything at all, which means you're going to have to dig deeper inside yourself and figure out what you need to be doing differently.

The reward is that a slow weight loss like this is much more sustainable.  That time you lost 30 pounds Jenny Craig - how long did it take you to gain it back?  Your goal is to develop sustainable, lifelong habits.  It may be frustrating to me that I'm not losing as much weight as I had hoped, but I haven't gained the weight back either.

This is bringing me to the final point I want to make this week.  Why am I doing this?  I say I am not gaining.  I say I have reached a sustainable point in my diet.  Why do I say I want to lose another 15 pounds?  I have been thinking a lot about this because many of the writers who are questioning whether or not it's mentally healthy to obsess over eating cleanly or according to a set list of foods also question our pursuit of a certain body type.

I dream of looking a certain way.  I dream of visible abs (not a 6-pack, but some real definition), cut arms and lets, and rippling back muscles.  On the other hand, I do wonder if such a body would be worth losing my curves.  Why do I want this body?  What purpose would it serve me?

I can say it's about health.  I do have legitimate health concerns.  There is diabetes and hypertension in my family - particularly on the side of the family I most take after.  I want to avoid these types of health problems and have a reasonably uncomplicated old age.  I also would like to be light enough to do whatever I want with Riddle.  Four years ago Tara balked at letting me ride her at all because she thought I was too heavy.  I am still very reluctant to jump her as much as I want to because I don't want her to be lugging my considerable bulk around a course.  I want to lose weight for her health and comfort.

Is it just about those points though?

A healthy BMI for a woman of my height is between 85 and 123 pounds.  That's a pretty large range.  It means if I say that I want to lose another 15 pounds and dream of ultimately losing another 25, people should stop dropping their jaws and telling me they're worried I'll have an eating disorder.  On the other hand, I'm almost in the range right now.  I can drop just a pound or two and not have to worry about being scolded by the doctor at my next check up.  At my last measurement, I was 21.8% bodyfat*, which is awfully good.  If it's just about health, I'm healthy. I'm not just healthy because I'm the right weight.  I'm fit.  I do heaps of varied and difficult physical activity.  I love physical activity.  I love moving and using my body.  It all seems to work well too.  I see no major signs of malfunction other than some knee pain when I do too much high-impact activity.

So what is my reasoning for wanting to lose 15 more pounds and have more muscle definition?

The truth is I'm brainwashed by society and the media.  I want to look a certain way because all my life I have been trained to believe that's the way I should look.  I am trying to live up to someone else's aesthetic.  I believe the fitspo.  It's true.  Other than wanting to drop a few pounds for my pony's sake, I have no one who needs me to be a certain size and shape.  I could say that I want to be more attractive to my husband, but how true is that?  He generally doesn't find overweight women attractive, but he's not an extremist.  He was still attracted to me when I was at my heaviest, so I could have never gone on this program and he would have been just as attracted to me (although he must be happy I can fit into my leather skirt again).  My family doesn't care.  My friends don't care.  Most of my girlfriends enjoy eating as much as I do.  I am not a model or fitness model.  My career doesn't depend on me looking a certain way.

There is no reason for it.  To pursue the kind of body is just proof I'm a sellout.  I'm rejecting the principles of feminism I so passionately believe in.  We are supposed to love our bodies. As long as we properly care for them, there is no reason to chase a certain look.  The people who love us will love us at any size.

In the end, as much as it doesn't make sense, I still want to see if I can do it.

*I do my own caliper measurements, so there is probably a wide margin of error here.  Let's just say I started this program at 29% bodyfat by my own calculations, so I lost 8% nonetheless.  Not too shabby.


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