The insidious reality of weight loss talk

Several people over the past few weeks have asked me the innocent question “Have you lost weight?” followed up by the statement “You look great!”

I know these words were not spoken with any kind of ill-intent. Quite the opposite actually. I know these people were trying to build me up, to tell me they’ve noticed my work, to compliment my effort.

The truth though?

It’s not a compliment to me.

I don’t know if I’ve lost weight. I’m sure I have. My clothes fit differently, looser. I seem smaller when I look in the mirror. I don’t have a scale, though. Ever since my nephew broke ours when he jumped on it six years ago, there has been no scale in our house. That has been such a blessing because I could finally break free from the weight mentality that so easily ensnares us women. Or men. Or people. Weight is a big deal. And losing it is a really big deal.

Do you want to hear the really dark truth, though?

The past couple weeks, all I do when I walk by a mirror now is look at my body. I scrutinize it. Today, I put on my running clothes and then I stood profile and I just examined.

Hmm, yeah, my butt does look smaller. And I think my stomach doesn’t stick out as much as it used to. Still pretty big, though. And soft. That’s kinda gross. Boobs are full of milk, so they don’t count. Man, even my face looks more slender. That makes me look a little older, too, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost some weight. I wonder how much. I know it was 25 pounds a few months ago, it’s probably more now. I bet I’m getting really close to 160. Just ten more pounds and the BMI chart wouldn’t think I’m overweight…

All of these thoughts whirred through my mind and have been because of the constant prime of weight loss by these well-meaning questions. I find myself holding in my stomach more. I watch my shadow while running to see if I look thinner there too. I admire how ‘thin’ I look when I lay on my side and everything droops to the floor. But the upper hip looks darn good.

It’s because of this dark reality in my life that I intentionally stay away from weight-related talk. I don’t even know how to respond to those questions anymore because it makes me feel uncomfortable. It reinforces that idea that I wouldn’t look great if I hadn’t lost weight. I would still be unremarkable and chubby. Not great. I stutter and stammer through an answer, coming up with something like ‘well, I AM training for a marathon’ and leave it at that.

I know I’ve talked about this subject before, but I think it bears repeating given the destructive thoughts and actions such comments have wreaked on me over the past couple weeks. I have been lacking in motivation for my running and working out and right now, I wonder if the weight loss talk isn’t a big part of it.

I am working really hard and people notice I’m not as chubby.

Do you know what I notice?

I feel strong. I can go up the stairs carrying kids without as much effort. I can run 20 consecutive miles. I can do some push ups on my toes. I can pop up off the floor more easily than I’ve been able to in months. I can carry heavy stuff more easily now. My clothes don’t hurt and feel really uncomfortable when I wear them. I have more stamina. I have more energy.

Talking only about weight loss minimizes everything else. It perpetuates the idea that weight loss is king (or I suppose queen in the world of women). I don’t do any exercise to lose weight. It’s not a motivator. Weight loss is the only goal that will let you down over and over and over again. Those last five pounds will always hang on. It will always creep back up. It’s not sustainable. It creates an obsession with a mechanical device on the bathroom floor.

It shuts out all the other ways your body is changing when you start to live a healthier lifestyle. It minimizes the fact that you can go upstairs and not be winded. It minimizes that you’re not hefting yourself off the floor. It minimizes that it’s easier to play with your kids.

I get it. Weight is so tangible. That number is so easy to track and to follow. It’s so easy to see forward and backward progress. It’s so insidious, though. Because success is hinging on numbers going down. What if they go back up? Then what? How is your mood? What is your reaction? How do you treat others around you?

What if we could finally let go of this idea? What if we could fully embrace that strength is what matters? That progress of ability is what matters? What if we could ask new questions?

You look stronger. Have you been working on it?
You look fit and healthy. What is your secret?
Have you been working out? You look strong. 

Can we cut the crap with talking about weight? Can we finally stop talking about it?

I am so tired of fighting the urge to scrutinize myself in the mirror. I’m tired of wondering if I’ve lost weight. I’m tired of picking myself apart. I’m tired of wondering where the weight loss has happened. I’m tired of only my lack of chubbiness being noticed.

I am working so hard for the goal of running a marathon and it’s like that ability is so unnoticed. My miles are increasing. I am running easier, faster. And yet with all these weight-related primes, I almost can’t help myself from looking and checking and ultimately being disappointed.

Let’s commit to no more weight talk. Let’s talk about feeling healthy. Let’s talk about feeling good. Let’s talk about seeing different results. Let’s talk about increased miles and increased resistance and increased repetitions. Let’s reframe our fitness goals to not include a number on a mechanical box. Let’s help each other to stay away from that stupid mirror that tells lies about our progress and beats us down because we are not perfect.

Please help me succeed. Find other ways to compliment my hard work. Stop asking about my weight.

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Boundaries

I’ve been reading the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is such a good book that I am just devouring it.

I had some time last night in the garden all by myself, weeding, just me and my thoughts. The kids were in bed. Husband was inside. The dogs were outside with me, but being quiet. I had some time to just sit and think and process and integrate everything I have been reading. It was a really good time.

I realized, though, that I have some serious boundary issues. I say yes to everything. If anyone has an idea or a need, I’m game. Even if initially I think, “no, I’d rather not” or “that’s probably not a good idea”, ultimately, I have an extremely hard time saying no or backing out. It’s only once I’ve completely overwhelmed myself that I am finally able to cut through the clutter and not without a LOT of thinking and consideration and, generally, talking to someone else to help me to finally make the decision.

What I have learned from this book is that, in Boundary terms, I am what they call a compliant. I comply with everyone’s wishes and desires, regardless of my own thoughts and feelings. And often, I don’t really even know what my own thoughts and feelings on a subject are. If you’ve ever seen Runaway Bride, I don’t know what kind of eggs I like. I like everybody else’s eggs.

So as this epiphany struck me last night, I realized that I need to take a couple steps.

  1. I need to back out of a not-yet-started commitment.
  2. I need to decline a particular leadership position in a group I’m in.
  3. I need to do more reading to understand more about how I ended up like this and what I can do to try to establish, maintain, and defend my boundaries.

Last night, I declined the leadership position and offered myself up for a different one that I believe would suit me better. The hard thing about setting and enforcing a boundary as a compliant is the intense anxiety one feels waiting for the response. And man, it is intense. Physically, my stomach was in knots, my throat was aching, and I was nearly in tears. Just from the anxiety.

In my head, I knew that it wasn’t a big deal. No one was going to get angry or be disappointed, and heck, they’d probably even let me stay in the group. The logic was there, but it had absolutely no bearing on my emotional state. I had to force myself to actually hit send on the message. I sat there, contemplating, waiting, watching, hearing that tiny voice say ‘Is it really such a big deal? You could do it and not bother everyone else. After all, you already said you’d do it. What an inconvenience for everyone to have to now fill this spot.’

As I listened to my inner voice bully me, I knew I had to do it. I had to take control of this boundary. After all, Jesus promises LIFE. He wants us to do things that are life-giving, not life-sucking. To give and serve cheerfully as we have set our minds to do, not because we feel we must. Not because we feel obligated. Not because we feel bullied by our inner selves.

So I did it. And you know what? Everyone was completely supportive. Exactly as my logical mind said. Nothing like my anxiety said.

But that’s not the end of the story. That is usually where the story ends, isn’t it? Happily ever after.

It’s not true. Today, I am still suffering emotionally. I am owly. I have a short temper. I am on edge. I still feel the intense weight of that decision. I can’t help but feel like I’ve let all these people down. I still feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. That little voice is asking me if everyone was just being nice. It’s asking when their true feelings will come out, how long it will take for them to push me out. I’m tempted to rescind my decline. Like REALLY tempted.

You see, boundaries aren’t easy to set. They aren’t easy to even identify sometimes. But they are important. Boundaries are what keep us healthy as individuals. We MUST have them.

The next section I need to re-read (I re-read the compliant section last night) is how boundaries are formed. I remember the authors said that our ability or inability to set our own and respect the boundaries of others are formed very early in life. How we were parented. How we were responded to by them. How we were disciplined. When we were disciplined. All the things that happened in a time that we won’t have actual memories of do a lot to shape our sense of ourselves and our ability to relate to ourselves and others.

I don’t remember any more than that from my first read-through, but it sure informs my own parenting. My own kids are in a time of their lives that they likely won’t have any actual memories of, but these are the years that will form their sense of self, their ability to create boundaries, their ability to interact with the world.

It has taken me 30 years to realize this. I once saw a pastor for counseling and I think he was the one who gave me this book, 12 or 13 years ago. It has sat on my shelf, unread, all that time. Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t ready emotionally at that time to grow in the way I needed to. How much heartache would have been saved! I can’t change the past, though. I can, however, begin to understand how my past has shaped my present and informs my future.

I have a feeling I have a lot of anxious conversations and owly days ahead. I have a lot of self-discovery to do, a lot of growing. Lord help me survive this because I cannot do it on my own. I want to be mature and free and feel good about my boundaries, but I’m not there yet. Oh, do I have a long way to go. I will need God by my side every step of the way and fortunately for me, this is precisely his area. For when I am weak, he is strong.

If you can stress, you can pray

Man, it’s been a while again. I’ve had all kinds of things I want to say and yet have just never quite found the time to get in here and write them down. Life in our house has been very busy over the past few weeks.

We finally moved our chickens outside a couple weeks ago, on the 1st.

six little chickens all in a row

We had them in our dog’s unused kennel once they outgrew their rubbermaid brooding box. These darn girls kicked pine shavings chicken poop out everywhere in the laundry room! We were sweeping up crap at least two to three times per day. Needless to say, I was really happy when they finally graduated to being outside.

Chickens outside

They appear to really like the new coop and we find them roosting up on the various roosting bars, strutting around, and trying to eat the paint off the door. They are definitely liking their new space, though, and are thriving outside. That makes me very, very happy.

We have finally introduced them to outside and you can see them here, here, and here. The seem to only be brave enough to come outside when we’re around. We are okay with that right now because we haven’t completed the perimeter/yard expanding fence yet, but it will get done tomorrow. Then we can feel a little better about leaving the chicken door open when we’re not out there actively watching. We have wandering neighborhood dogs and cats and I would hate to have someone’s pet come and kill my chickens. So far, I tend to leave our dogs outside if I’m going in and leaving the chicken door open. At least that way, nothing’s coming onto our yard without some pretty hearty notice.

We’ve also been dealing with a some breathing/wheezing issues with my two year old, so we’ve been doing nebulizer treatments three times a day in addition to the regular home and house and daycare duties. We’ve also had a number of appointments for my son and his tongue tie that we also discovered earlier this month.

He just had his tongue and upper lip ties released yesterday and it didn’t seem to slow him down any, so that’s good. Plus we were all up pretty much all night and crazy early in the morning. On the plus side, everyone took really good naps AND slept through the night AND slept in late. However, I’d like to not make the up late part a regular routine.

I also strained my hip flexor about two weeks back and it really flared up again last weekend, so I’ve been off from running for a few days now to let that baby heal up. It’s amazing how much of your life is determined by a nice, healthy, functioning body. I feel that minor ache in my hip so much and there are times it can even affect how I walk! I’ve been trying to be good about being a little less active to really let it heal up so that I can be back out running early next week. I will have to take it easy for a week just to make sure I don’t re-reaggravate it. I have to say, though, the break from training just as all the kid issues were hitting was a blessing because it was simply one less thing I needed to worry about and try to fit into our busy schedule.

It’s definitely been a little stressful for me around here, but it’s all part of life. The big thing that I’ve been able to reflect on is being so grateful for friends to lean on and who will point me to prayer when I just want to sit, stare into space, and stress about everything. I have been reminded so many times to just stop and pray. If I have time and energy to stress, I have time and energy to pray.

I am hoping that now that the real craziness of May is over, I can be over here a little more writing and sharing. As it stands now, I hear my two precious kiddos upstairs hollering, chatting, coughing, and just generally alerting me to their awakened status.

 

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  –Philippians 4:6 (MSG)

“Have you lost weight?”

“Have you lost weight? You look great! You look so skinny!”

Can we agree that this is not a compliment?

You might be thinking that I’m a bit crazy. You might be thinking I live on another planet (or maybe should) or that I’m not up with times or that losing weight is a bad thing.

Some of the above may be true. Yes, some people would be much healthier if they lost some weight. But some people wouldn’t. Some people might be happier for milisecond after such a comment.

Can I share a truth with you, though?

It’s a loaded compliment. It’s a compliment that comes with pressure. Pressure to lose more weight. Pressure to keep it off. Pressure to start losing. Pressure to fit into those old clothes you finally gave up on. Pressure to buy a scale. Pressure to see if it’s true. Pressure to see if others noticed. Pressure to diet. Pressure to restrict what you eat. Pressure to be more miserable.  It’s a compliment that, at the end of the day, isn’t really one at all.

Because what if you haven’t actually lost weight? What if you’ve GAINED weight? What happens if you’ve lost weight, but then you gain it back? What if you’ve just been enjoying a healthier lifestyle and weight loss is a barely noticed (by you) side effect? What if you’ve worked really hard at managing a healthier diet and incorporating exercise into your life?

And yet, weight is all that matters. It’s the only thing noticed.

A few years ago, after I had my first baby, I was training for a marathon. Like as soon as I could run after having her because I only had five months to train. Obviously my baby weight melted off. I was running hours every week, I was doing some personal training sessions, I was working my tail off for the goal of the marathon (which I completed, by the way, with the help and support of great friends and family).

I got a LOT of “you’ve lost weight!” comments that I didn’t know how to handle. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a scale, I couldn’t confirm it. I was back in pre-pregnancy clothes pretty fast, though. I’m sure I slimmed down, but I didn’t really notice. They were super awkward comments for me. Losing weight has never been a priority for me after having kids, so to have that be the sole compliment was a little disheartening.

Why?

Because I was working toward a goal bigger than weight loss and all that extra work went unacknowledged.

Until someone at church said “Wow, Cari, you look so STRONG!”

“Thanks. I’ve been training for a marathon.”

In that moment, in that sentence, in that conversation that lasted probably 12 seconds, my life changed. My outlook changed. I had been seen. My work had been acknowledged. Now when I looked in the mirror, I looked for strength and not a slimmer belly. I looked for muscles, not less fat.

Two years later, even though she has moved on and I haven’t seen her in some time, I still hear her words when I look in the mirror. When all I can see is my baby belly, her words float to the surface, “You look strong”.

What if we tried compliments like that?

You look strong.
You look vibrant.
You look healthy.
You look _____.

What about if you KNOW they are working toward a goal? Why are we so collectively afraid to give a specific comment about something we KNOW is happening?

I saw your design on Instagram. It looks awesome.
Your kids really love you. I love watching them light up when you get back.
I saw you running. You looked like you’re ready to tackle your next race.

If we complain about how society only focuses on looks, we need to step back and ask what we are doing about it? Do you talk to our friends about skinny or strong? Do you work toward skinny or healthy? Do you look in the mirror for fat?

We can change things. YOU can change things. I can change things. A simply comment, two years ago, changed my life and my outlook. I have never made a weight loss “compliment” since. If I can’t think of something else to say, I don’t say anything.

The people around us deserve better than “skinny”. They deserve strong, vibrant, overcomer, healthy, glowing, happy, content – any other positive word. Watch someone light up when you give that compliment. Watch their world change.

I want to challenge you to give someone a non-skinny compliment when you have the chance and share it here or on facebook. Let’s change the world, friends!

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” –1 Samuel 16:7

Coming up out of the water

My baby boy is six months old today.

Patrick 6 months old.jpg

For the first five months of his life, I felt like I was under water, but I didn’t realize it until my head finally broke above the surface. I remember it clearly – one day, I just felt like I could breathe again. I felt like I could something outside of the things that were completely necessary to sustain life around here – like dishes and laundry and diapers and feeding people.

I remember when I finally made the long overdue vet appointment for my dogs. I remember clearing off the table. I remember sorting toys. I remember the feeling of taking that first deep breath. I remember really wanting to dive back into my Bible and read. I remember really wanting to take my 30 30s seriously (more on that later). I remember finally feeling like I could be my sole motivator for that, like I didn’t NEED other people to help keep me accountable.

A lot has changed in the past few weeks as life returns to me. I have registered to Run the Year 2016 with my sister, brother-in-law, and dad. And I have actually done some running.

First mile dogs

I have started a youtube yoga program, 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, and I’ve actually completed 3 days of it. With kids! And dogs! In the morning! When everyone is awake!

I’m able to focus more on being WITH the kids instead of hiding behind my phone screen browsing the internet. I can think about things other than how to recharge my dead internal battery. I feel like I am me again.

fingernails.jpg

How often in life does this happen? How often do we find ourselves overwhelmed at new changes in jobs or life circumstances or by the mundane drivel of everyday living? How often do we find ourselves shutting down at every moment possible because it seems to be the only way to survive?

Friends, you are not alone.

Life is hard. It is repetitive. It can get boring. It can get overly complicated and overwhelming. Hurt, sorrow, pain, and loss can threaten to steal away all our joy. Our souls can get heavy with the burden of living. Maybe you’ve lost a friend, a family member, a child and you feel so shattered that you’re afraid you’ll never find the pieces to put yourself back together. Maybe you’re burdened by loneliness because your friends live far away and you haven’t been able to make new ones yet, so you feel a little lost. Maybe you’ve pictured your life one way, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t turned out that way. Maybe you expected to be further or closer, to be established in a career by now and you find yourself drifting along, trying to find your next move.

Friends, you are not alone.

We have a friend in Jesus who never leaves us, who always walks beside us.

Footprints

Or drags us, sometimes. Or carries us. Friends, we serve a God who knows us, who cares about us, who has been tempted in every way and yet was without sin. He gets it and, as my husband said last night, he will take care of us if we just let him. God will provide if we will simply let him. If we can let go of our own agenda and rest in him, God will provide rest we’ve never dreamed of. He will bless us in ways we couldn’t think to ask for.

So the big question, then, is what does that look like? Sure, that sounds great, but I’ve heard crap like that all my life, but no one has ever EXPLAINED what that means or how to DO it.

So what is resting in God? It is taking time to be still, to be quiet, to pray – without distraction. Without the TV. Without your phone. It’s sharing all the stuff you think about, but never say to anyone. It’s letting out the ridiculous feelings or the frustrations of life and the ways people around you annoy you. Yes, saying them out loud in an empty room.

Sometimes, resting in God is being around other people who are followers of Christ who can remind you of simple truths. People who gently point you in the direction of Christ when you forget to look that way. Friends who can tell you that the little people in your house are blessed to be in a Christian home. Friends who struggle in their lives and are authentic enough to share those struggles.

It’s YOU being authentic to others and letting them do what they please with it. Maybe you find that someone who you thought was a good friend really isn’t when the going gets tough for you and you have questions and doubts. Maybe it’s stepping back and realizing they are dealing with their own complicated problems and so they can’t be there emotionally for you right now, in this moment. Maybe they never can. Maybe they are too sensitive, their skin is too thin, they are too easily offended and you don’t have the energy to deal with that kind of relationship.

Friends, whatever you are going through that makes you feel like you’re underwater will not last forever. Your head will break the surface. You will breathe again. God will provide for you. He will refresh you. He will restore you. Don’t let yourself forget that. The effort and the journey of growth are more important than rigid adherence to a prescribed discipline. Everyone’s journey toward Christ is different and as long as we are moving, that is the important part, so do what you need to do. Find Christ followers around you. Find people in your same stage of life. Make your village. Rest in Christ. Keep your eyes looking up because one day, you find that you need to look down to see the top of the water.