Thursday, April 19, 2012

Revisiting Thoughts on the Body and Food

I was pretty sure when I wrote my last post on this topic that the next post I would write in this series would be detailing the way I was managing to "control" my struggle with food and my body.  How I was losing weight, changing my diet, and being successful at those things.

That's not the post I'm sitting down to write today.

The truth is, I think I have more questions than answers.

I read that last post to my therapist, and she asked me to take a break from the plan for weight loss that had been working for me for the first three months of the year.  She asked me to take a break and spend some time learning how to honor my body.

In the month or so that I've been doing that, I've learned that I'm not very good at it.  I've learned that discipline and willpower are not my strengths, and that an at times addictive personality just might another challenge I'll need to face. I'm fairly certain that I've gained back the weight I worked hard to lose (almost half of my goal) over those first three months of the year.  I've been procrastinating on the homework she assigned, because I just can't quite figure out how to write a letter of appreciation and gratitude to my body.  It hasn't been that hard to do as she asked and do one nice thing for my body each day.  She set the limits wide, and since I live a generally healthy lifestyle, it wasn't hard to think of things like walking the stairs instead of taking the elevator, drinking lots of water, and using my SAD lamp as little gifts.

I could make excuses - that this was the worst month ever to remove limits.  After all, it was the final month of the semester, and I was stressed beyond my limits by group work. Who could blame me if I had one cookie, or ten? Who would blame me for wanting to go for drinks with the girls after class, and deciding I needed a big juicy hamburger to go with the drink (after all, I'm a light weight when it comes to alcohol, and if I don't eat, well, half a drink can make me seriously tipsy.)

But the excuses ring hollow as I've pondered what I'd write here.  They're just that - excuses for a lack of self-discipline.  Excuses for not treating my body well.  (Though I wonder if the guilt I feel for failing, and then making excuses is equally negative for this journey.)

I don't have any answers today.

I have a lot of questions.

How do I learn to see my body differently?

How long will it take?

Can I create limits without them being a mechanism for control? A mechanism for beating back fear? How do I do that?

What does healthy look like in my circumstances?

What are the lines between healthy choices and those self-care moments when chocolate or a drink with the girls really is a helpful thing?

Am I attractive?

Can I ever be attractive to others if I don't believe it about myself?

And most of all, what does Jesus think of all of this? How does he see me? How does he ask me to care for my body?

I don't have answers, just a lot of questions, and I'm inviting you into those today.  I'd love to hear your questions, or just your thoughts about your own journeys with your body and food.


terri said...

i'll just say one thing: this made me feel a whole lot less alone. thank you for that.

christianne said...

I'm in such a similar place in my own body journey. I've gone seriously backward in the last two months -- have also gained back what I lost since the beginning of the year. And I've got a ton of questions I'm carrying around, too, about all this.

Sometimes I notice that I avoid spending time with the questions. It's so much easier to avoid them, to numb out, and to dig deeper into my destructive behaviors. But if I really gave myself time to think and reflect and contemplate and wonder out loud with Jesus about the questions I'm carrying about all this, perhaps it would make a huge difference. (Who am I kidding? I know it would.)

I find myself thinking of the principle of indirection here -- connected with spiritual disciplines. I've written about this a few times on Still Forming, but it's basically the idea that we cannot, of our own will power, change our character. Only God can make us into new people. But we participate in that process through the principle of indirection -- we do small acts of discipline that are within our power to do, trusting that God is working in that faithfulness to change our character.

So I guess I'm wondering what that principle can look like when it comes to learning how to honor the body and treat it well -- not through will power or shaming ourselves into it, but through simple, faithful acts that God uses to make us into people who really do care for and honor our bodies.

Lisa said...

Terri & Christianne,

I'm so thankful for this odd little community of friendship that the internet has created, this little bunch of us living scattered across a continent who are journeying along similar paths and asking the same sorts of questions, and somehow feeling a little less alone because of that.

I so wish we didn't live in the northwest, middle and southeast bits of the continent, though, when I read comments like these, because I wish the three of us, (and maybe a few others) could gather over tea or coffee or water or wine (or whatever seems appropriate for a discussion of the body and health!) or walk along a beach or through a forest, and talk about these things face to face.

Christianne, I so appreciate your thoughts and questions about the principle of indirection. I find myself pondering your question of what it looks like to apply it to learning how to honor our bodies.

I sat yesterday with my therapist, and shared with her that I felt like the first month of this experiment in learning to honor of hers had stirred more questions than answers. She tweaked her instructions, sent me home with more homework and things to try out along the next month or so of this journey.

And this is where I'm thinking about your principle of indirection. She pointed out that if the relationship I was trying to repair was one with a human, I couldn't simply dive in to intimacy, that it would take little steps, little words, and time to restore the relationship. And then she asked why I thought repairing a relationship with my body would be different. It's a question that has stuck with me. We talked about disengaging from the negative things, but not really engaging with positive. It's hard to move from status quo (even once the negative is ceasing) without that slow engagement of the new positives.

So much to think about and dialogue. I'd love to hear more (here, by email, in guest posts here in my space - whatever works for you) from both of you ladies on this whole topic and area.


christianne said...

Mmmm ... I love that question your therapist posed: why would it be any different in our relationship to our bodies?

I think a big part of this, for me, is that I haven't had a real relationship with my body. As I wrote at the beginning of the year, I've viewed it as an object to bend to my whim ... and my whims have not been of a friendly persuasion at all. It's hard to think about my body being something I am in relationship with. I know that's the healthy view to have, though.

Sigh. I just wish this wasn't so hard. This is an area where I continue to be reminded that I'm all out of proper alignment. And I know Jesus and I have work to do here together because he is about bringing us into proper alignment with the order of creation. Grrr. I just am so frustrated and impatient with this particular process.

I, too, would love to sit and chat about these things in person! So glad to have found friends in you gals. xo

Lisa said...

I remember when you wrote that about your body. I guess I've had a bit more of a relationship, but it's been a primarily negative one - I ignored my body until it didn't meet my needs or standards and then I berated it. Over time I've grown to expect (and be terrified) that it will fail me. I'm not good at thinking of my body as something I'm in relationship with either - in fact, I told my therapist that her assignment to write a letter to my body felt cheesy and ridiculous. She (being a skilled therapist, sigh) asked why, and what the assumptions and negativity were that lead to that feeling. Sigh. At least it led to some good discussion.

It is hard. And I identify with your first statement about preferring to drown the questions in the behaviours we already know aren't helping. And the part of me that so prefers instant gratification is not loving the process!

Hugs and lots of prayers as we all continue to journey!

terri said...

I'm so glad you cued me in that this discussion was still ongoing. I love to hear both your thoughts. I've been in a bit of a funk and the body stuff is the first thing to bite the dust when I'm in this place. Isn't that strange? I'm always so curious why we know full well that some things are damaging (or at least unhelpful) and yet we continue to default to these behaviors/strategies.

I think what makes this whole thing so difficult for me is that I developed a pretty amazing ability to disassociate as a very young kid when things were out of control for me. It helped me to survive but it also left me with a very poor awareness of my physicality. To this day, I have a hard time taking my body seriously or noticing it at all. It's hard to have a good relationship with something that you've habitually neglected in this way.

And yes, wouldn't it be lovely if we could sit down and talk about these things face to face? And, even better, wouldn't it be amazing to be able to support one another in a more proximal, personal way? *sigh* Anyway, I'm glad God matched us up over all the miles. He's pretty spectacular that way.

Daughter of the King said...

I'm struggling too. Losing and gaining the same 5lbs over and over and yet working so hard to break this cycle of food addiction. Exercise helps a little but sometimes I wonder if I'm exercising so I can eat more unhealthy food than my daily allotted calories allow. *sigh* I also wonder if I'm passing down healthy eating, body image and a healthy attitude about exercise to my daughter.

kirsten said...

Lisa, I so appreciate your tenderness and vulnerability in sharing any of this at all. This is such an intimate and difficult thing. Such a very private and tender thing.

Not at all that surprisingly, this is one of my "things", too.

It always seems there are more questions than answers where this topic is concerned. Each new chapter in life brings with it new challenges in regards to my relationship to my body and to food. Marriage changed it. Pregnancy really changed it. And now, it's still evolving in this postpartum period with new challenges, and some (I confess) of the old hangups.

I've read all the previous comments and have soaked in that idea of indirection, of discipline and willpower not being able to change our actual character.

I really don't have any particular wisdom or insight to add. Like Terri said earlier, it's good to know there's a not-aloneness here in what you've confessed, and I always think that if you've got to struggle with something, it's far better to struggle with other people who have that in common.

I wrote a letter to my body once. I went back and read it today and ached and remembered and how I've treated it, how I got better, and how I still find myself looking in the mirror at my arms or belly with just a bit of disgust. And then I think of how I have a daughter now and how I don't want her to acquire these destructive habits of thinking from anyone, but least of all me.

Learning to listen to the body is hard when so much else is competing for our attention, when listening can be excruciatingly painful. I love what your therapist said about not being able to just plunge straight in to intimacy. It's true -- it takes time, but it's worth the effort.

Love you.

Lisa said...

Oh ladies... I love this discussion, and I hope we continue it through other posts and outlets. There's something so lovely about this not aloneness, about sharing this strange journey together of knowing and honoring and loving our bodies, even though we're separated by large distances.

Kirsten and Andrea - I'm so moved by both of your comments about your daughters and not wanting to pass these destructive habits on. It's actually motivating for me to continue along this journey, as I hope to one day have a daughter and I feel the same - that this is not a thought pattern I want to pass on to children (male or female for that matter.)

Kirsten - I went and read your letter to your body, and ached with you, but for me as well. So much of what you described, I have in some way experienced, and I am still learning, still wondering, still navigating the way to making peace. And so yes, slowly, I go forward, working towards a loving intimacy instead of a forced and hostile one. It's a journey that I really do believe will be worth the effort.