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Recently, I have noticed a resurgence in eating disorder articles in the health section on news sites like CNN, Msnbc, and NyTimes. Although I don’t primarily write about clinical eating disorders, preferring to focus more on the wide spread disordered eating and health in our culture and society, I feel that eating disorders can not go unmentioned.

After all, eating disorders are the extreme products of how we negatively communicate health, fitness, food, and beauty image in this culture.

A CNN article I found particularly disturbing was about a boy who started dieting and exercising at age 11 and increasingly got more restrictive until he was 79 lbs. at his lowest weight. The obsession with his weight began in that phase everyone goes through. Yes, you know the one I am referring to. The few blurry years we all try to forget and hide the pictures or any other documentation that they existed. The blurry figure in the haze had a mouth full of braces, baby fat, horrible hair, and slumped shoulders in uncertainty of the body that was trying to make its way to the surface.

This boys story about his struggle with food, body image, and acceptance hits home that everyone, not just females, are dealing with feelings of not looking good enough and being accepted by others based on appearance. This is especially true for the sensitive years in life where everyone is just starting to become aware and understand their body, culture, and other perceptions of them.

Not only does this story point out that eating disorders affect males but it again broadens the age brackets we most closely associate with eating disorders.

This article and another NYtimes article, “Treating Eating Disorders and Paying for It,”  highlighted a recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics finding that today more children are developing eating disorders and developing them at an earlier age.

Also, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitalizations from eating disorders grew 18 percent from 1999-2006. The sharpest rise was for children 12 and under.

Here’s a video highlighting the Journal of Pediatrics report: 

We need to ask ourselves what is happening. What are we doing that reinforces our children to focus more on what they put in their mouths than whether they should play outside or build forts with the furniture.

We may have a little control over what the media and culture at large communicates to them but we must clarify the realities of what they see and hear from others. We need to encourage them to be who they are and be proud of who they are. We need to encourage health and fitness aside from being healthy and fit for image. We need to set an example in the way we live our own lives and in the way we talk about food, diet, health, fitness, and body image to other adults.

The NYtimes posted a multimedia of  people of all ages, sexes, genders, and races sharing their different experiences with eating disorders. It is worth the few minutes to listen. They share stories of anorexia, bulimia, and over eating. They speak about the struggles and the self talk that perpetuated their eating disorders. Some of them are family members of people struggling with eating disorders. Listen to the tapestry. Listen to the stories and ask yourself what you can do within your own life to counteract the negativity surrounding food, fitness, health, and body image.  Check it out here!

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Have you ever found yourself pulled in so many different directions you realize you have forgotten to do the things you most love to do? Maybe it’s sitting down to read a good book, look at magazines in a bookstore, morning yoga sessions, a long run, a Sunday nap, or a nice long dinner shared with good friends.

If you’ve ever forgotten the things that truly make you feel most alive inside or maybe even right now these things are staying warm on the the back burner. Know this: you are not alone.

Recently, I have been buzzing around busy as a bee but have found myself starting to run dry of all that sweet stuff. I have forgotten that in order to produce honey you have to have a constant intake of a little sweet goodness yourself. It’s kind of like the saying, “What goes in must come out” but perhaps better stated, “What goes out must first come in.” Or else we run dry.

A few days ago, after much push and pull, I had finally dragged my tired self outside, pulled on my dusty running shoes, and started to run. Then it happened, my IPod ran out of batteries. Great. How was I supposed to have a rock out run without the rock?

I almost decided to take a nap instead but then I realized I was indeed tired. I had been going full speed a head juggling work, class, volunteering, and studying with short breaks to drive to and from each activity filled with NPR or music blaring in my ears. I’ve been so busy maintaining speed that I’d forgotten to appreciate the moment. I had forgotten what silence sounded like.

So, I took my IPod back to the house and instead of taking off, feet slapping the pavement, I simply just started walking. After a while my thoughts began to slow. I started to hear the green parrots talking to each other and the breeze gently whistle through the leaves. I began to see that some time since January spring had occurred.

There were purple daisies, pink lilacs and white lilies. There were red rose bushes growing up sides of peach stucco houses and like a heartbeat the blue-green ocean was roaring in the background.

I stopped to look at a vacant lot filled with cracked cement. Between all the cracks there was grass growing but the most curious part was the bright yellow and pink flowers that were also pushing themselves up through the cracks. Yes, the blooms were probably weeds but they were absolutely beautiful!

That’s when it occurred to me. We are the vacant lot.

Every day we put so much pressure on our selves with work, deadlines, and the economics of living.We build up the cement around us and on top of us.

We forget that underneath the cement we are just part of the earth. Our intrinsic nature is to grow and to reach up towards the sky.

So, lets take a moment, turn our faces up towards the sun, and break through the cracks in our cement. Let our true selves grow up and out from the weight of our daily commitments.

Let’s revamp! Do a little Spring cleaning.Let’s tear down our vacant cement lot and rebuild it into a beautiful garden filled with lemon trees, lavender, and lilacs. Or maybe your lot is filled with roses or a tropical version with palm trees!

But, whatever your lot looks like the only cement is the stepping stones that are scattered throughout. Instead of preventing growth they maintain a path that leads from one place to another and supports optimal existence.

It is this delicate balance between cement structure, colorful flowers, rich damp earth, roots of trees, vegetables, fruits, rain, air, and sunshine that provide us with the optimal potential. These are our food.

All things need food to grow. Not just food for your mouth but nutrients of life….good friends, long walks, love, and laughter.

Today break free from your cement. Do something you love to do but haven’t done in awhile. Start that garden. Fill it with whatever will nourish your soul. Remember it’s a delicate balance for optimal existence.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

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Thank you to everyone that emailed me their stories, opinions, and examples of how we communicate ideas of health and body image to younger people or how, as a younger person, you feel we communicate these things to you. I deeply appreciate it and will be contacting you further as I would like to include this subject as a chapter in the book.

As you know, I have not posted in a while. Life has been kind of crazy but recently there has been a surge in survey responses and it has reminded me of the importance of maintaining a connection with you! So, thank you to those who have recently filled the survey out and shared your experiences with me.

Currently, I am taking several courses to prepare for nursing school (part of the reason life has been a bit busier than usual.) I have been reminded just how many conversations there are throughout the day where people are talking about health, food, hunger, exercise, beauty, sexiness, ugliness, fatness or the constant policing or chastising of others about these topics. However, the irony is that no one seems to realize the frequency or impact these fleeting conversations have.

Here’s an example:

Scene: Classroom filled with many genders, ages, and diversity.

Snippets of conversation in just a 5 minute period throughout the room of 40 people (each comment from a different person:)
– That was like a block of sugar
– But you know that burrito you skipped this morning…
– What? when i am not hungry food sounds disgusting.
– You want some pretzels?
– How many calories do you think this has?
– Are you going to yoga tonight?
– No, don’t feel like it… I guess maybe the gym.
– metabolism…
– I can’t eat the way I used to. I mean I used to sit down and eat whole pizzas and boxes of zebra cakes.
– Did you work out this morning?
– I am hungry.

We’re desensitized to how often we are talking or even indirectly hearing about health. The question to ask ourselves is how is this shaping our beliefs, actions, and desires about health?

Below is an awesome video created by BLU a group that paints on public walls and creates incredible animated shorts. The video has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this blog however, the process or rather the evolution of the images within the animation do.

For instance, set aside the story that is told with the images in the video and just observe the evolution or progression of one image into the next. The is a process that happens every where in life: one thing occurs and evolves into something else which evolves into something else. Our actions in our life taken on this movement (think Run Lola, Run or Lola rennt. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.) One action affects the next and so on until it becomes a series or sequence of events which produces an outcome. Our words and our conversations do this as well.

The snippets of conversation above spawned certain inner dialogues and external dialogues for these individuals. The scary thing is that most of us are not aware how our words and conversations are impacting our lives and shaping our perspectives or beliefs. So, my challenge, as usual, is to just be more aware today. Not only of the conversations you hear or have but the sequence of events that they produce inside your head or in the conversation.

Here’s the awesome video:

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Preface: I apologize this blog has been out of commission. Recently, I have moved and the details of life have taken priority but I am back and so are the weekly posts. Thank you for being patient and still checking in!

So…the post…

Pick up a newspaper or log on to a papers homepage. As your eyes scan the headlines, all you see are politics, economics, gossip, something about Clunkers, and not nearly enough international coverage…Right?

Here are some other headlines that made it in today’s papers (taken from NYTimes, cnn.com, msnbc.com, foxnews.com, LATimes, Miami Tribune, Chicago Tribune, and The Seattle Times):

Is Your Child The ‘Right’ Height? (Apparently now there are a set of standards for the normal American child)

Does It (exercise) Keep You Healthy? (Since when did exercise being healthy become debatable?)
monky fish


Aging: Eating Fish May Ward Off Dementia

Fewer Calories Equals A Longer Life- At Least In Monkeys (Maybe monkeys just eat fish not count calories)

Could Fat Babies Mean Fat Toddlers?

Best And Worse Foods For Your Sex Drive

8 Ways The Food Industry Can Hijack Your Brain (…and your soul)

Underweight Team Told To Eat At Least 15 Eggs Per Day

10 ‘Bad’ Foods That Are Good For Weight Loss (Who gets the job of labeling foods good and bad? Isn’t one persons brussel sprouts another’s fudge.)

Doctors Grow New Nose for Woman

Considering Plastic Surgery? (Not recently especially since my doctor can now replace my old one with a new real one!)

The newspapers are full of messages about how and what we should eat and why with an emphasis on the ‘normal’ way our bodies should look and feel. They even includes helpful tips on how many steps you should take a day which I am personally grateful for since I was up late last night staring at my ceiling wondering whether its a four or five digit number.

What happens when we find ourselves fitting outside of the norm that’s placed on us or that we place on ourselves? Guilt, shame, embarrassment, and lofty goals that are difficult to attain. Sounds fun. Even if we do fit inside the ‘perfectly’ defined box we will still manage to find faults or want to be the best little norm in the box.

I know you’re thinking, “I’m not affected by these headlines.” You simply read over them and laugh. I did. But honestly ask yourself, are they affecting you?  Even if it’s just on an unconscious level making us more inclined to set a standard of right/wrong, good/bad, normal/abnormal and beautiful/average.

Forget the news for a minute. What about the comments we hear strangers, friends, family, or coworkers say?

Jez, that’s alot!

Another one?!

I could never eat that much rice!

No thanks, I’ll pass. I am being ‘good’ today.

I am so bad…been so busy I haven’t made it to the gym.

We get health advice, fitness tips and beauty standards from: family, friends, coworkers, coaches, T.V, magazines, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, doctors, books, internet, newspapers, billboards, and even music lyrics. That is just about every area of our waking life. Makes me want to take a nap.

Of all the messages where are the ones about loving your body regardless of the shape it takes because really what is normal shape anyway?

Or the ones about how many smiles you can achieve from a delicious dinner with friends and the pleasantly satiated feeling you go home with?

Or the ones about how much fun being outside and working up a sweat can be without all the details on how many calories your burning?

Today forget about all the rules, regulations, and constrictions that all these messages place on you.

Today rebel.

Raise up and do something abnormal. Eat the whole piece of came if your hungry for it and its delicious. Compliment one of your friends on a quality they posses that makes them beautiful. Run as fast as you can with your dog across a field or roll around giggling with your son or daughter. Indulge your partner with kindness that they would feel is out of the ordinary. Instead of going for a run, go for a long walk with a friend.

Revel in rebellion!

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The body is an instrument. We must tune it and listen to what it tells us. Listen to when it’s hungry, when it’s full, when it appreciates the food we put in it,  as well as the types of food that irritate it. We must pay attention to when it wants to stretch its legs and exercise or when it needs to rest. This awareness requires mindfulness throughout the day of how our internal selves are in constant interchange with our external selves and environment.

What are we eating? How are we feeling? How are those two related?

We have one body to carry us through until we eventually become part of the earth. Isn’t it time we learn to treat it with respect and be kind to it? The time is now. We only have the present moment, the now, in which to live, all other moments are unpredictable.

The First Lady Obama gave a speech a few days ago addressing health, gardening, and prevention by nutrition. She has planted a 1,100 square foot organic garden on the grounds of the White House with the help of kids from a local elementary school. The speech was to celebrate the fruits, if you will, of their labor and to encourage people to educate themselves on the food to plate process.

This gorgeous and bountiful garden that you saw over there has given us the chance to not just have some fun, which we’ve had a lot of it, but to shed some light on the important — on the important food and nutrition issues that we’re going to need to address as a nation.  We have to deal with these issues. My hope is that this garden — that this garden, through it, we can continue to make the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and how healthy we are.

According to the National Gardening Association’s Home and Community Gardening survey, 43 million U.S. households are expected to have edible gardens in 2009, which is a 19% jump over 2008. These numbers are fantastic but how can we continue the momentum?

The importance of understanding the relationship we have with our food goes beyond health and nutrition. The cycle of seedling to plant to the kitchen and eventually to our bodies also has an impact on our environment. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of many books that has brought this issue to our tables. She makes a colorful argument that small changes create enormous impacts. Just imagine all the small changes each individual can make within their own life multiplied on a global scale.

Here are a few stats among many. Others included agricultural effects on land use, the economics of imported foods versus exported foods, and the costs of eating locally, cultivating your own food, or buying the majority of food from super markets. Here are a few (please remember statistics can be influenced in numerous ways or seemingly dramatic. They also can be sound. Regardless, they are usually provoking and stimulate thought):

  • The typical distance from farm to plate in the U.S is 2,500-4,000 km.     –Brain Halwell, Worldwatch Institute.
  • 76 percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited or over exploited and many species have been severely depleted.
  • If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.     – Steven L. Hopp
  • Apparently if every American skipped just one meal of chiken a week and substituted vegetables and grains the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads. Having one meat-free day per week would be the same as taking 8 million cars off American roads.

We are what we eat. If we continue to eat blindly through our resources without an awareness of how what we eat impacts our health and the environment then we will find ourselves insatiably hungry staring down at an empty plate.

Here’s a few links that might be helpful when exploring where our food comes from, cultivating your own garden, urban garden communities, finding local farmers markets, and restaurants that support locally grown food:

American Community Gardening Associtaion

Local Harvest

National Gardening Association

Worldwatch Institute

An Interesting Article on Eating Meat

The Ins and Outs of the Meant Industry

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“Hands are not about politics…” -Sarah Kay

Our bodies shouldn’t be either. But it seems every one has something to say about what a body should and should not look like, what foods are “good” and “bad”, how many calories do we should eat, how many times we should exercise, and whether or not we fulfill what it means to live “healthy” . How often have you heard the line, “They have really let themselves go?”

Of the 220 people that responded to the Body Awareness Survey that I have on this blog (located at the top of the right sidebar,) 93.10% of people said that they believed people evaluated them on their physical appearance.

Awesome.  With a number like that it seems we all feel people make deductions about who we are based on what we look like, our bodies, and not just who we actually are beneath all our skin. We become the totality of our shell. We become our wrinkles, cellulite, hips, and butts. How one-dimensional is that?

Today celebrate you. Celebrate the inner qualities that make you unique. Celebrate the nose you hate or the parts of your body that you wish were more toned. Celebrate the people you see today. Instead of seeing people through a critic’s microscope,  see the whole person and celebrate their uniqueness. Today think of a part of your body that you don’t usually pay attention to or a part of yourself that you are always negative about. Observe its functional value or what it would be like if you didn’t have it. See the beauty in it.

We live in a multi-dimensional world that is diverse and constantly changing. Let’s not diminish ourselves or others to the shells they live in that will eventually turn to dust.  Let’s open our eyes and remember that its the diversity that makes us beautiful.

Here’s a fantastic video from Def Poetry, a show on HBO, of a Sarah Kay celebrating hands.

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I used to take more time to appreciate the silence around me but recently it seems I go from one thing to the next. My inner dialogue is a constant chatter. My “to-do” list scrolls through my head like a broken record. I go from a conversation with a friend, to talking at work, to catching up with my roommate when I get home. When I am exercising I am thinking about work. When I am at work I am thinking about exercising. Of course there are moments, mere snippets, where I absorb the stillness that exists somewhere around me but its fleeting then I am back in the grind again.

For two days last week I turned off my phone, computer, ipod, television, folded up my “to-do” list and put it away. At first the silence was slightly irritating and unsettling then I slowly began to unwind into the space and explore.

I tried hard to to simply exist in the stillness. However, the act of simply existing was not all that simple. I had to keep filtering my thoughts until I was able to hold one thought at a time. Eventually, there were moments of pure silence. I listened to how its sounds. I observed how I fit in it and how my body felt in it. I observed how my mind responded to it. I opened myself into the space and reconnected with the sheer beauty of just being.

When I prepared dinner I listened to the sounds of the knife chopping against the cutting board and the sizzle of the oil in the pan. I smelled the garlic, ginger, herbs, and the sweetness of the onions caramelizing.  I listened to the water as I washed my dishes and the sounds the rag made against the counter as I cleaned its surface. I listened to the wine gurgle when I poured it into a glass and sat down to eat. My world became a symphonious space.

I was alone, there was no TV buzzing in the background, no Goggle search bar taunting me from the computer, and no music to distract me from my meal. I found myself eating slower and chewing longer. I realized the majority of time I eat I do not actually think about the act of eating. It has become a routine task I could do in my sleep.  It made me wonder how many tasks we do throughout the day where we blindly go through the actions but never think about the act of doing.

The silence reminded me of the pearls of mindfulness. What is mindfulness? It’s a word that came into our language in the 14th century meaning to bear in mind or be aware. It’s the concept that fueled Dante’s Inferno and maintained Chaucer’s Canterbury chronicles.

But we’ve forgotten, or at least I had, what it’s like to truly absorb ourselves in the moment, a task, a thought, or an interaction. In our world of cars, cell phones, and ipods maybe it’s about time to reinvent this archaic wondrous concept of mindfulness.

We need to take more time during the day to listen to our thoughts. Slow them down and concentrate on each one. When we do a task we need to put all our energies into that one task. When we speak with people we need to really engage ourselves in the conversation by being an active listener. By making an active effort to be more aware we will discover a deeper part of ourselves, our world, others, and how we interact with others. What we can learn from observation without judgment will humble us.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to raise awareness on how our everyday talk affects our ideas of health, body image, and self-acceptance. Being more mindful throughout the day will help us to identify these relationships.

By becoming more aware of our thoughts we will become more aware of our inner critic. How do you talk to yourself? How many times a day do you hear yourself saying something negative about yourself? How many times a day do you speak positively about yourself?

We will become more aware of the way we speak with others. Are we listening to others? Do we tell the people in our lives we appreciate them? When we give compliments, what sort of compliments are they and do we say them with sincerity?

So, plan a day or a few days in the next few weeks where you take a day of silence. Put away all your gadgets, toys, work, and distraction. Listen to how your body responds. Listen and observe your thoughts. Be present in your interaction with others. Slow down, discover, and reconnect with your raw existence. What do you find?

**Update: I have changed the format of the sidebar to better represent a body positive message and also be a resource for those individuals with ED. Please remember this blog is for all individuals. I have added a blogroll, several new videos, and new locations of survey responses on the map. I will continually be adding new links as I come across other websites, videos, and resources. If you find any body positive sites send them along!

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