What is Health? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)

Ha! After reading the title of this post, hopefully all of you have the song “What is Love” by Haddaway (made famous…er by the cinematic masterpiece Night at the Roxbury) stuck in your heads too. WELCOME TO MY HELL.

Also, hi. Happy Monday and whatnot. Today marks the official 1-week-til-baby day for my sister. Her due date is technically March 25th, so this weekend I’m headed down to Houston. Depending on the timing, I’ll either be welcoming the new little nugget (SQUEE! BABIES!), or I’ll helping my sister keep her sanity as she pushes a football out her hoo-ha in any way I can if the baby takes a little longer to come.

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Cue the episode of Friends, “The One Where Rachel is Late.” And man, this post is already full of delicious, outdated cultural references. Go me.

So, my weekend was actually pretty low key. Not a ton to report, which is a good thing for once! I’ve been able to do quite a bit of work on my second book, and get some ideas down for my upcoming (impending?) HUNGER GAMES-THEMED BIRTHDAY PARTY, which will be happening next month. Yes, I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to the planning of my Quarter Quell, and it. Is. Glorious. It might even blow last year’s Harry Potter party out of the water.

Man, I love my birthday.

So, somehow the planning of said party has made me mildly (very mildly) introspective about the nature of celebration, and how it relates to healthy living. You’ve probably already noticed a bit of a pattern with me, in that I really love to celebrate things. Blogiversary? Dog’s birthday? Mastered 6 chords on the ukulele? Let’s celebrate! And usually my kind of celebration involves food, as all good things do, which means I constantly am making excuses as to why I can break the “healthy” rules for one meal, one evening, one weekend. It’s a celebration, after all!

I’ve been trying to work on this. Trying to be “better” about my food choices, about eating out, about constantly “breaking the rules.” However, as I pinned yet another Jell-O shot recipe to my birthday party board, I started to wonder if I’ve been condemning myself for the wrong thing. Yes, this is a weight loss blog, and I am someone who is constantly trying to shape her life around healthy habits. But what IS health? Is it really just down to the nuts and bolts of what I put into my body, how much exercise I do, and the like? Of course not. Health is much more complete and complex–at least when it comes to total health, not just nutrition and fitness.

Okay, sure, I don’t think anybody’s going to give you license to eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting cause it’s OMG!so healthy. But I wonder instead if the truly unhealthy thing about me right now is my mentality. I shouldn’t be getting on my own case about eating a cupcake, I should be scolding myself for always looking for an *excuse* to eat a cupcake. If I want a cupcake, I should have a cupcake (well, not right now, since I gave up desserts for Lent, but you know what I mean).

I’m struggling with a similar thing when it comes to revamping the ratios of my diet. I’ve said a few times now that I’m trying to focus on protein and healthy fat, over carbs and sugar. But I have an entire lifetime of thinking “fat is bad” to overcome in doing so. So yeah, it doesn’t really feel “right” when I’m ordering a steak instead of a salad, or eating half an avocado with my breakfast. I’m still trying to break my old thought-process when it comes to “dieting” (low-fat! Nonfat! Skim! Low-cal!) and it takes time. But I think that my overall health and happiness deserves that.

Nobody is going to make the argument that it’ll be healthy for me to get schwasted and have an epic time at my birthday party (at which, I should mention, there will also be cupcakes, hahahaha). But it IS arguable that the minor “damage” I’ll be taking that night is outweighed by the happiness and personal satisfaction that might come out of it. I’m sure I’m not really phrasing things correctly, but I think you all kind of know what I’m getting at by now.

For me, healthy living as I think a lot of us think of it–whole grains and kale salads and running 3 miles a day–is not something that will ever come naturally. Yes, I am a more informed, more restrained person than the 250-pound, binge-eating version of myself, but I am simply never going to be the girl who would honestly rather have a piece of fruit over a slice of cake. I will NEVER want to go for a jog, when I have the option to sit on my butt and watch episodes of anything on Netflix. I mean, I *might* do those things anyway, but it wont be because I WANT to. I’m just not hardwired that way. So instead of trying to completely revamp my life, deny myself the things I know that I like–and will always like–and leave room for deprivation to lead to unsatisfaction, and unsatisfaction to lead to unhappiness, and unhappiness to lead me right back into binge eating (or some other equally destructive behavior), I make smaller changes. I try to make good choices, and still leave room for the occasional bad one.

Consider this my official statement saying that I’m done trying to constantly fit my life into whatever standards of “healthy living” I’ve worked up in my head. After all, it’s not some all-or-nothing kind of thing. It’s not like once I stray outside the boundary lines, I’m gonna get kicked out of the healthy living club. The healthy living police aren’t going to come take away my domain name. From now on, I will work healthy living into the kind of lifestyle I know that I want, which means that, yes, there will be TV-watching the occasional plate of cheese fries. But there will also be brussels sprouts and long walks with adorable schnauzers and good times spent with great friends.

A lifestyle that is mostly healthy, but more importantly, sustainable. Which, in my opinion, is better for me than a year of stringently healthy dieting and running, followed by a burnout that causes me to backslide even further down. I think I’m *finally* getting the concept of the whole 80/20 thing that healthy living…ers sometime preach. While, granted, my ratio might be more like 70/30… on a good day… I finally get the idea that I don’t have to strike for the 100% perfect ideal. I can allow myself “permission” to have it both ways. Kind of.

So, yes. My birthday will likely be the epitome of UNhealthy living. But after my night of Capitol-inspired debauchery, I’ll get up. And hopefully I won’t making proclamations about my need to start all over again, or how I need to “undo” the damage I did the night before. I’ll just pick up where I left off. I’ll continue on.

What is health to you? When you think of health, do you only think about your body, or do you account for your mind and emotions as well? When it comes to “healthy livng,” do you feel like it’s more important to set a high standard for yourself so you constantly have something to reach for? Or is forming a realistic lifestyle the key to long-term success?

Televisionary

I make no secret of the fact that I love TV. Despite all of my attempts to counteract my true nature, I’m really a couch potato through and through. It is for this reason that for the better part of two years living in my house, having a TV took precedence over having a usable desk.

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Here’s a closer shot (from a different, messier occasion) of that whole situation:

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Er, yeah. Now, before you think that this is going to turn into some kind of resolution-y post about cutting TV out of my life, think again. I love TV. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying both quality programs and a few guilty pleasures. I am never going to be one of those people who just “doesn’t watch a lot of TV”. Pass! But I do think it’s important to make the distinction between how I view TV now, versus how Old Gretchen viewed TV.

I fully admit to being the kind of person who would actively pass up activities to watch TV. Believe me, I know how sad that sounds. I would decline going out to dinner so I could catch one of my favorite shows and nix heading out with friends on the weekend so I could clear out my DVR queue. All that sitting and TV-watching really worked up an appetite too, so I would spend hours literally resting on my laurels while I ate chips and cookies and pizza and… well, you get the general idea. Mindless eating in front of the television is something I still struggle with.


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After we made the decision to cut out cable (and all live TV access) from our household, I did cut down on my hours logged in front of the boob tube. That said, I do still watch a lot of TV. Though I have kicked quite a few shows off of my list, I still vigilantly watch The Vampire Diaries (duh), Glee (not 100% sure why lately), and all the Thursday night NBC sitcoms (Community, come back!) the day after they air. I’ve really gotten into Once Upon a Time this season, and I squee with nerdy hipster delight at Zooey Deschanel in her show, New Girl. Netflix streaming has also proven to be a powerful friend.


Can’t. Handle. So. Much. Pretty. (source)

I guess the biggest difference between the old and, er, current me when it comes to this aspect of my lifestyle is that I am no longer willing to sacrifice other parts of my life for television. Except for the occasional episode of The Vampire Diaries following a particularly gasp-worthy cliffhanger from the week before (IT’S SO GOOD.), I would never pass up meeting a friend for dinner or going out to an event just so I could sit in and clock out in front of the TV. I even finally got a mount (a Christmas gift from my brother!) to put the TV on the wall and give myself a real desk like a real(ish) adult!

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And to use like I’m a real writer. 🙂 Of course, let’s ignore the fact that now my TV is situated perfectly in front of my bed, and focus on the desk-clearing aspect.

In grand scheme of all the changes I’ve made in my life thus far, this one is probably pretty insignificant. Maybe if I had kicked the TV bucket completely it would seem more… monumental. But I do think it’s a nice representation of all the smaller things that get affected when you make one large change. I made my health a priority, and it hasn’t meant giving up the things that I enjoy. It just means being smarter about them. I used to use TV as an excuse to not have to interact with the rest of the world, to hole up in a private place where I could wear stretchy pants all the time and nobody would mind my stomach rolls. I love living my life now. And the lingering bits of television? Well, they’re just gravy.

What is the one TV show (or two, or six) that you just can’t seem to kick?

Fat Acceptance

Hold onto your hats folks, it’s about to get real deep up in here. You know, because we haven’t already had enough heavy this week, hahaha. Let’s just call today… Thoughtful Thursday, shall we? After all, we already know how much I love alliteration.

Yesterday I came across a Facebook post that a few of my friends had shared. You can click through to see the original image included in the post, but since it’s potentially NSFW, I won’t re-post it here. It’s a picture of plus-sized model Tara Lynn, nude (though with all her ladybits covered, of course), and the text below was this:

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

“Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on CDs. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I?!”

I found myself in a bit of an internal debate after reading through all of that. As someone who has been overweight for the entirety of her adult life, I can sympathize with the thought that you shouldn’t have to be pressured into losing weight solely for the sake of being “thin.” After all, it’s that exact motivator that drove me into disordered eating and depression, and contributed to my obesity far more than it helped. There are so many pressures out there, inadvertent or not, that point us to the conclusion that success is marked by being model-sized: actresses, advertisements, and, of course, actual models. We all feel the pressure to be thin.

Naturally, out of any sort of oppression, even the emotional kind, rebellion is born. Enter the fat acceptance movement. It’s an effort to stop discrimination against and increase acceptance of, well, “fat people.” I am obviously, 100% in favor of stopping any kind of discriminatory practices that occur simply because of one’s pants size (which can include anything from bullying to actual job discrimination), but I find myself torn overall. I may get a lot of hate for even bringing this topic up, but I have to admit that I worry about the potential for people to use terms like “fat power” as a means of justifying an unhealthy lifestyle. I know that there are legitimate activists fighting for equality, which is awesome. But there will always be someone looking for a way to tie it into their own agenda, too.

Even within this movement, it seems there is dissension as to what is really being fought for. Some people really do honestly just seem to be fighting against discrimination. Some people are trying to find a way to see past the “versus” mentality of body size (fat vs. skinny, big vs. large, etc.) and both of those goals are fantastic. But some people use the excuse of “fat liberation” as a platform for supporting their poor habits. They make it seem mutually exclusive: if you accept yourself as the “whale” you are, you’ll be happy but you have to stay that way! Strive to be a “mermaid” and you’ll be miserable (and smell like fish! Hahaha.)

You don’t need to sacrifice a high quality of life in order to lose weight. I think that I’m living proof of that! No one should be able to use their life (“I have kids!” “I have a job!” “I volunteer!” “I commute 2 hours!”) as an excuse to stay, well, fat. Theodora and Katy have recently written posts that touch on that very point, in fact.

There’s not much of a debate anymore over the fact that obesity does put you at a higher risk for health complications. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: skinny people can get diabetes just like non-smokers can get lung cancer and people with a BMI over 30 can live to be 100. But them’s the facts. And while I can accept arguments questioning the validity of things like the BMI system as a way to determine whether someone is at an “appropriate” weight, I’ve been on the larger side of the spectrum and I simply can’t accept the idea that if you’re truly obese, you can still be healthy. Happy, maybe (I wasn’t), but not healthy.


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It’s a hard line to tow. Of course I want society to continue working on embracing the concept that beauty is not one-size-fits-all (and especially not a size 2!) and I think that models like Crystal Renn, and actresses like Christina Hendricks are helping dispel that myth (obviously, neither of these women are what I would consider “fat” in the slightest, but they aren’t stick figures either and that’s my point.) Magazines like Glamour have started featuring full-figured models on a more regular basis (though infrequently enough that they’re still somewhat of a novelty at this point in time) and shows like Drop Dead Diva and Mike & Molly even have plus-sized stars. But for me, having “seen the light” in terms of my overall health and happiness now versus when I was obese myself, I also don’t want people to become complacent just because they have an excuse to. I absolutely believe that everyone should accept themselves and love their body no matter what they weigh. But that being said, I don’t want anyone to think that self-acceptance means having to stay unhealthy. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you can’t still want to better yourself.

The passage I quoted above bothers me because it glorifies being overweight. I know that at this point it probably seems like I’m waffling, and it’s true. I do keep going back and forth. I don’t want people to disregard their health in the name of “self-acceptance”, but I don’t want anyone to feel the infinite self-loathing that I did just because of how they look or how much they weigh. For being “fat”. We can call it any number of things — curvy, voluptuous, zaftig, rubenesque — but after a certain point, it’s tiring to come up with new synonyms. I’m starting to finally make peace with the word: fat. I was fat. And then I took steps to try to change that, not for the sole sake of being thin, but to embrace health. And I’ve also made peace with the fact that “healthy” for me will probably never include being a size 4. But that doesn’t mean that it has to include being a size 20, either.

I know that fat acceptance and fat glorification really are two different things. But not everyone is always going to think of them differently. For some people, the lines will blur. And it’s at the point when we think there is justification for our actions that we stop trying to change.

I don’t ever want to stop trying.

What are your thoughts on the ideas of fat acceptance and (versus?) fat glorification?

Please do let me know, by the way, if any of the thoughts I put forth in this post are worded in a way that is either offensive or unclear. If it’s the former, know that is absolutely not my intention, and if it’s the latter, well, it is ME after all. We can only expect so much. 😉