Jan 152010

Weighty Issues

This is heavy stuff Monkees. It’s also long.

When I suggested this as a topic to Glennon I was really nervous. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m still nervous as I’m writing this. I know this is something our fearless leader struggled with for decades and that it is a sensitive topic for many women, so it is with much love and great fear and trepidation that I talk to you now.

I’m going to talk about food and our often bizarre, abusive, and unhealthy relationship with it. And how not only what we say, but also what we do, impacts our daughters and the other young women we coach, mentor, and love. More than anything with this post I don’t want to upset, offend, or trivialize anyone’s problems or suggest that redefining our relationships with food or body image will be easy.

But I believe it’s important to talk about and, even though it’s not easy, I know that we’re Monkees and we can do hard things. And knowing that gives me the courage to write this.

So here we go.

The first time I remember thinking I was fat was in 7th grade. My best friend, who was built like a bean-pole, was sporting her new Jordache jeans (that’s right, I just dated myself) and I wanted a pair. Bad. After many tears and countless attempts to squeeze my more athletic build into the latest and greatest designer jeans, I blurted out to my mother that it was useless because I was fat. I don’t remember what she said to me that day – all the right things, I’m sure – but I can imagine how hearing her 13-year old criticize herself so harshly must have crushed her mommy spirit.

I remember my mom always saying the right things to me – that I was healthy and fit and smart and talented and kind and beautiful. You know, all those things that we tell our children so that they will learn to see themselves and love themselves as we do. But I also remember my mother always being on a diet. I remember hearing her complain about her weight, label certain foods as “good” or “bad” and verbally flog herself when she “cheated” on her diet or gained weight. I think that, combined with my own perfectionism and drive to excel, was enough to cultivate my own body issues and unhealthy relationship with food. Issues that lasted until quite recently.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that I experimented with binging, purging, and fad diets in the same way someone else might experiment with drugs: just long enough to realize it wasn’t for me. I do remember feeling that if I just lost 5 more pounds or toned this or that body part that I would be “perfect.” That I would be happy. That someone, or maybe everyone, would love me. Of course, now I see how dangerous that mentality is – the notion that happiness lies in a number on the scale or some other aspect of our outward appearance, rather than the content of our soul.

It’s only in the last year, since becoming a mother that I have completely redefined my relationship with food. This happened in part because I don’t want my daughter to inherit my obsessions and also because I have finally embraced my physical imperfections. Short of surgical intervention, there’s nothing I can do to remedy the deflated breasts and excess tummy skin that seem to remain a year after the twins’ birth, but I’m strangely okay with it. How I look is not what’s important or what defines me as a person.

So I no longer label foods as good or bad. It’s just food. It is meant to fuel my body to do the things I enjoy and give me energy to care for my babies. I eat when I’m hungry, and only very rarely now when I am stressed or sad. I don’t ever purchase or eat “diet” food because I have learned that it’s not really even food. I try to avoid processed, fake foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce knowing that if it doesn’t come from the ground or have a mother, it’s probably not good for me. And, when in doubt, I eat a banana because that’s what Monkees do.

I have found that since I no longer divide foods into good or bad categories that I enjoy food more and naturally seem to eat less of what I shouldn’t and more of what I should, perhaps because I’m interested in energizing my body rather than depriving it or harming it. I try to exercise because I enjoy it and it helps me stay balanced, but I don’t freak out if I miss a day … or a month. And here’s the irony of it all: I not only weigh less but I also obsess less than I did two years ago before I got pregnant with twins. Go figure. The real transformation, however, is that I feel emotionally lighter and generally much more relaxed.

Now my mission is to encourage my loved ones exercise more and eat well so they can feel better and be healthier. So I pester my parents. A lot. I’m like a broken record. Nag. Nag. Nag. My mom has become my favorite pet-project because I love her and have watched her struggle with her weight my whole life. And, also because the twins are a LOT of work and I need her help.

The other night I was trying to convince her that most of what she’s learned over the years with regard to dieting is wrong and that she needs to focus on the quality of the food she is eating. Nourishing her body with nutritious food rather than depriving it or polluting it with unnatural ingredients. She told me that she’s always been on a diet because she has always struggled with her weight, and I reminded her that she wasn’t always overweight. I’ve seen pictures – the woman was, and is, beautiful. Then, with big tears in her eyes, she said that her mother always told her she was heavy. It breaks my heart to think that my sweet, generous, compassionate, and kind mother has carried that with her all these years.

The entire time my mom was telling me this I kept hearing the words that a very wise friend told me when the twins were newborns: “whatever you tell your children about themselves, they will believe.” Think about that. Think about the power we have to shape the way our children, especially our girls, view themselves and their self-worth. Powerful stuff.

I’m suddenly acutely aware of how important it is for us to set an example for our girls. They should not have to listen to us condemning our own bodies or see us abusing them via extreme exercise or radical, unhealthy diets. After seeing how hurtful my grand-mother’s words were to my mother I know we need to be extra careful with what we say too because they are listening and they will believe what we say about them.

But I digress. The real reason for writing this was not to talk about myself but rather to figure out how we avoid making the same mistakes with our daughters. How do we, amidst the constant bombardment of air-brushed “beauty” advertisements, ensure that they will value their bodies and develop a healthy relationship with exercise and food?

Where does this leave us? I’m not sure exactly. But I imagine the first step is to forgive the mother, coach, mentor, friend, stranger, or self who made us feel a certain way about ourselves. Because I believe they were doing the best they could at the time, even if we were a little hurt by their actions or words. Then, we need to seize control and take ownership of our issues and decide what to do about it.

So let’s decide to focus on our achievements, attributes, and talents rather than what we perceive to be our shortcomings. Let’s remind our sisters, friends, mothers, and daughters what makes them special and important and unique so they never doubt themselves. Let’s eat and exercise to be healthy and strong and to set a good example. And let’s remember that God made us all in different shapes and sizes for a reason and we are all beautiful and that the world would be a very, very boring place if we all looked like a Barbie doll. Let’s remind each other that food is simply fuel and its purpose is to nourish and fuel our bodies. But mostly, let’s make sure we don’t pass our body image and food issues down to our daughters. This is one burden they don’t have to carry.

Who’s with me?

Jan 182010

Monkees, please be patient with me.

I have to make a few little changes to today’s plan.

I have spent the entire weekend, as has Erin, thinking about Friday’s post about food. Erin wrote a beautiful, truthful piece about our attitudes about food and how those attitudes effect our lives and other lives. Erin was right. But we both think that it’s not the right thing to do to talk specifically about “healthy eating” today.

Here’s why.

First, we don’t want to make the age old, infuriating mistake of pretending that food issues are about food. They’re not, and I, of all people should know that. I am a little confused about food. I have been since elementary school. I guess I was thinking that maybe you were more clear minded. A lot of you, clearly, are. But I’m selfishly comforted knowing that some of your relationships with food are as complicated as mine. It seems that we are one, crazy, beautiful, Monkee mess. Which is kinda nice. I’m also aware, based on some of your emails, that you will never, ever believe that I have body and food issues since I’m thin. Okay, fine. But hold on a second…would you, looking at Husband, think that he had a major problem getting made out with? Might we all, as Monkees, admit once and for all that what’s on the outside rarely offers any indication as to what’s going on inside? Please?

Unfortunately, I am reminded of the time I sat on my dearest friend Adrianne’s couch and told her how much I related to some food issues she was having and how I felt her pain and understood her completely etc etc. When I was done, she looked at me with her big beautiful brown eyes and said “Oh honey. If I weren’t so tired right now I’d get off this chair, walk across the room and ring your skinny little neck.”

So, maybe not. Maybe you’ll never believe me. But as a last ditch effort, I’d like to remind you that I was once hospitalized for eating issues. I have the PAPERWORK. So I’ve got street cred, friends. I’m just saying.

I have read and reread your comments from Friday and it is clear to me that a lot of you have a healthy relationship with food and want some nutritional advice. I am going to hook you up with Erin at the end of this post. But it is also clear to me that some of you did not appreciate the fact that I seemed to be breaking my own rule: NO UNSOLICITED ADVICE at Momastery. This is not a self help place. Maybe it’s a “self breathe” or “self relax” or a “self laugh” or a “self connect” place. I don’t know what the heck it is, honestly, but it’s certainly not a place where we believe in trying to change each other on a surface level. Heck, no. That’s not the truth. If I know anything, it’s that happiness is not one new eating plan away. The truth is that I believe we are just fine the way we are and I also believe our kids are going to be fine and the only thing I believe we need to do differently is to reach out to each other more and stop hiding and thinking our secrets are the most unforgivable and our heads are the craziest and our hearts are the most confused. We just need to quit thinking we’re alone.

Now, I’d like to pause for a moment to publicly acknowledge MommySpoon. If you haven’t yet, please read her comments from Friday. What MommySpoon did in her comment was to remind me and Erin that when a friend is hanging, white knuckled and terrified, onto the edge of the food trauma cliff, it might be better to offer her a hand than a copy of an organic food pyramid. And since MommySpoon was brave, a lot of you started breathing easier. That was obvious. MommySpoon woke us up and kept it real. She went seven layers deeper than we were going, and I was impressed and grateful. So grateful that her name will be immortalized on this blog. From now on, if I offer unsolicited advice or in some way pretend that things are simpler than they really are, please, somebody call “SPOON! SPOON! SPOON! SPOON! If you’re really tired, one SPOON! will do. But SPOON! is now our code word for “keep it real.” The only rule is you’re only allowed to use it on me, not on each other.

Erin and I spent most of the weekend talking about this, and we’re learning. Erin heard you, and she is now is going to spend some time focusing less on nutrition and more on how our minds work. She loves us a whole lot, and she’s smart. She knows that if we’re gonna hear her, she’s got to understand us. For example, remember my organic week last week? It didn’t go as well as my posts may have suggested. I actually felt quite suffocated and panicked I sneaked out of my room each night and quietly stuffed my face with whatever I could find that was close and refined and processed before bed. Hmmm. Good luck with that one, Erin. She’s got her hands full. I’ve asked her to start by reading everything Geneen Roth ever wrote about compulsive eating. And one day, sweet, wise, passionate, Erin will hand us something that will help us. I think it might be what she was made for. But she promises it won’t be a juicer or a list of organic foods. It will be something helpful to our hearts and minds, too.

For those of you who are ready and want it, Erin has some health information for you, and she would love, love, love to get to know you, so email me and I’ll put you in contact. For those of you who would rather have an ear or a hand or a shoulder to cry on than a new eating plan, we’ve got that here, too. Keep sharing. We’ll listen and say “ME TOO.” Craig has software which shows that in the last four months 50,000 people have visited this site. Every time you are brave enough to share your heart here, you help another woman, somewhere, feel less alone. I have hundreds of emails to prove that a lot of women depend on your comments to feel connected and understood. If you have something to say, it might be because somebody else has something to hear. Just maybe.

For now, let’s get back to the point of this blog, which is to remind each other that we are fine, our kids are fine, and the world is going to go ahead and keep spinning for awhile, likely. And that God digs us BAD. He is WILD about us. The crazier, the weepier, the better.

And in keeping with this theme, I now introduce our NEW HERMIT CRAB BOOK CLUB selection:

I know a lot of you have probably already read it. I have. Let’s read it again. We can never be reminded too often that He’s got the whole darn world in His hands. As always, if it’s a bad money month, email me and I’ll send you a copy. Don’t hesitate. It’s important to me that you read this book and you should do things that are important to me because I lose a lot of sleep for you people.

I realize you might be too tired after reading this ridiculously long post to read another book. Maybe take a long break first.

I love you, Monkees.

P.S. Today, let’s all take a moment to remember a man who believed in Love Revolutions and justice and turning the other cheek and treating others as he wanted to be treated. A man who gave his life for those beliefs and in doing so, changed the world. Thank you, Dr. King. Thank you, thank you, a million thank yous.

Jan 192010

Today is Chase’s seventh birthday. In an hour, Craig, the girls and I will sneak into his bedroom and serve his traditional birthday breakfast-in-bed. Before the celebration begins, I’d like to write to you about three significant moments during Chase’s short lived career as a six year old. Since my camera is perpetually lost, writing is my attempt to grab his childhood and hold it down while it sprints past.

Last summer, in my neighbor’s backyard, I watched Chase play a game of pick-up football with a group of his best friends. I laughed and realized that my Chase might never grow into the professional athlete that his daddy once was. Chase never came close to the end zone, or even to the ball, because he kept stopping in his tracks, again and again, to pick up every friend who’d fallen.

One evening this fall, Chase asked to be excused from the dinner table to get something from his back pack. When he returned to the table, he handed Tish a small chocolate chip cookie wrapped in a paper napkin. Tish’s eyes lit up and I asked Chase where he got the cookie. He said “It was Eric’s birthday and he passed out cookies at lunch.” I asked Chase if he decided to bring his extra cookie home because he was too full to eat it. Chase said “No, I wasn’t full. But I had two cookies and Tish didn’t have any.”

At a Christmas party, Chase and I sat down at a table with several friends to eat and talk. I saw Chase notice that my pregnant friend, Manal, was standing and eating a few feet behind us. Chase looked up and said “Manal, please, take my seat.”

These are the three moments, during Chase’s sixth year, that I was most proud to call him mine. And the fact that these are the three memories that stand out among so many makes me wonder.

I wonder.

I wonder if we’ll get to heaven one day, and we’ll stand in front of our Father, and we’ll look at his face and we’ll say,

I’m sorry I never got it exactly right. I never became who I wanted to be. I never became fearless or selfless or patient. I never became that perfect mother or wife. I never lost that weight and I let my kids watch too much TV and I never finished those projects I was always dreaming up. I never lived up to my potential in so many ways, God.

I wonder if He’ll say,

Yes. I was watching. I know those things were very hard for you.

And then He’ll cup our chins in the palm of His hands and turn our faces up towards His. And He’ll wipe away our tears for the last time. And He’ll say,

Remember the day you offered the elderly lady your grocery cart? Remember the night you were so very tired but you held your baby’s hand and rubbed her back while she cried? Remember when you brought food to your grieving friend? Remember when you woke up every single morning to try again? Remember how you never gave up? On yourself, on your friends, on your babies, on me?

I was never worried about those things you didn’t do. I was too busy watching what you did. And those little acts of kindness were the moments I was most proud to call you mine.

Happy seventh birthday to my kind-hearted boy. Thank you, Chase, for bringing me closer to God.

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