Marathons, Family, and Bodies

So, a couple weeks ago, I spent a weekend with my brother, including watching him run a marathon. (That’s kind of his thing.) This was a very good thing, since I don’t see my brother nearly enough.

And yet, at the same time, being around him and his runner friends dredged up all sorts of insecurities about my own body and my own lackadaisical exercise routine. Most days, I can do pretty well at accepting myself where I am, but around him, not so much.

But then, something cool happened. I was sitting on the living room floor doing some stretches after a walk. A walk that I’d done longer than I probably should have because I was comparing myself to my marathon-running brother. I was doing what, for me, is a simple, basic, easy stretch. Sitting on the floor, one leg bent, touching the other leg. (It looks like this.) In yoga, it’s called a head to knee stretch, but my head definitely doesn’t touch my knee.

My brother walked in, saw me stretching, and said, “I wish I could do that.” And I let that sink in for a moment. I, the fat, easily winded, non-runner, doing something that is easy for me. And my thin, muscular, 3:30-marathon-running, hundred-mile-a-week brother *wishes* he could do. (I don’t even consider myself terribly flexible–there are a lot of yoga poses I used to do when I was practicing regularly that are beyond me now.)

Bodies are different. Different strengths, different weaknesses, different potential. Not better, not worse, just different. And I know this, but a reminder is always good, and almost always needed.

Now, I’m going to take a walk, and do some stretching.

Trigger Warnings for What Now?

So, twice in the last week, I’ve seen posts in fat-positive Facebook communities with a “trigger warning” for “unpopular opinions.” It seemed like a snarky mockery of both trigger warnings in general and of people wanting to carve out fat-friendly spaces where diet talk is not allowed.

If you’re not familiar with trigger warnings, the concept is that for people who have been victims of various Really Bad Things, or who have mental health issues (or who have mental health issues because of past trauma), the internet can be a bit of a psychological minefield. You’re reading along and all of a sudden — BANG — a personal trigger smacks you in the face. It might trigger a panic attack, or throw up temptations toward unhealthy behaviors (such as purging or restricting for someone with an eating disorder). At best, it makes your day a lot worse—at worst, it can be really damaging.

For me personally, with anxiety disorder, it goes something like this. I’m scrolling happily through my Facebook feed looking at cat pictures and seeing what my friends are up to. And then, I see something graphically violent, usually a picture of animal abuse posted to “raise awareness.” I scroll away immediately, but the image is already seared into my mind. My heart rate and my breathing speed up, usually into hyperventilating. I struggle to get the image out of my head. I feel warm, and the room seems to close in on me. My brain kind of locks up, and it becomes really hard to put a coherent thought together, or to remind myself to slow my breathing.

To put it mildly, it sucks. And my experience, as triggers go, is relatively mild. A little panic attack, over in a couple minutes, with no real lingering effects (though it can’t be good for my blood pressure or overall stress levels). It’s not a flashback, like someone with PTSD might experience. It’s not even the more severe sort of panic attack, where you might have chest pains and feel like you’re dying, or that doesn’t fully subside for days.

So when I see people griping about being expected to use trigger warnings in certain Facebook groups or blog comment sections that try to be safe spaces, it irritates me. To me it implies both a presumption that you can walk into whatever space you want and expect to be catered to and a belief that a moment’s inconvenience for you is worse than ruining someone else’s whole day.

Adding to that, the specific trigger warnings or verboten topics commonly seen in fat-friendly spaces are for things that go against the whole intent of those spaces and feed into the default cultural narrative. There are a billion and a half places you can talk about weight loss online and in real life. Not just spaces focused on weight loss, but pretty much everywhere. And yet people still take offense at the idea that there should be anyplace anywhere on the internet where they can’t promote weight loss or talk about how bad fat is.

The general complaint is that people are “stifling disagreement” or “creating an echo chamber.” As if you aren’t free to critique any idea to your heart’s content on your own Facebook page, or your own blog. And as if even the communities with the strictest moderation policies (like Shakesville) don’t still have plenty of discussion and disagreement with a wide range of views.

So in that environment, a snarky “unpopular opinions” trigger warning insultingly minimizes actual mental health issues that would lead to someone benefiting from a trigger warning, implying that wanting to decide how much you want to risk a panic attack or an eating disorder relapse is equivalent to a whiny, fragile insistence that no one ever disagree with you.

Judging and Being Right

So, Matt Walsh says Jesus wants us to be judgey. He makes a couple decent points, but I don’t really agree with his conclusions.

My first big bone of contention with this article is the part where he does a lot of proof-texting where he grabs one verse out of context, with the implication that it supports his politics.

In actual fact, there are a lot of urgent truths and important moral lessons in the Bible. Interestingly, almost all of them have fallen out of favor in modern American society. Here are just a few verses that aren’t particularly trendy or popular nowadays:

(WARNING: Politically incorrect truths ahead)

[snip for just the quotes I'm referencing, there's also the badly translated gay clobber verse in there]

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.”

Funny how the “inconvenient truths” line up with conservative politics, isn’t it? (Never mind that proof-texting is lazy theology and you can make the Bible say anything you want.)

God said to a prophet that he knew him before he formed him in the womb; therefore a blastocyst is morally equivalent to a born person. Paul said to a group who were sitting around doing nothing because they figured the end of the world was coming any day that they needed to work if they wanted to eat; therefore we should get rid of welfare.

I do agree that “Judge not lest ye be judged,” doesn’t mean “Don’t hold moral opinions on anything” or “Don’t criticize evil.” But I doubt, very seriously, that when he says he “judges rightly” that he holds himself to the same standard he holds others. When he talks about “standing up for truth,” it’s pretty clear that it’s about condemning homosexuality and abortion—all very easy for a straight male. It’s easy to feel brave and righteous when condemning actions you would never be tempted to. (See Rachel Held Evans’ “Everybody’s a Biblical Literalist until You Bring Up Gluttony”.)

But what sins does he talk about here that he admits he’s guilty of, or tempted to? Not a one. He makes a vague statement that, “I am a sinful person. If you would ever consider accepting and celebrating my sins for the sake of being “non-judgmental,” please do me a favor and stop doing me that favor. I don’t want to be made comfortable and confident in my wrongdoing. I’d rather have you hurt my feelings as you help me get to Heaven, than protect my feelings as you usher me right along to Hell.”

This statement does two things. First, it pretends that the only thing pro-choice women or gay people have to complain about from the church is “hurt feelings.” It glosses over gay kids being bullied and kicked out of their homes, it glosses over women being denied medical treatment in the hopes that the fetus growing inside them will survive. It pretends that judgment, as long as it’s right by *his* interpretation of the Bible, can’t hurt anyone. All the people who are “judging rightly” are doing God’s holy work, and anyone who’s harmed by that is just whining about “hurt feelings.”

The second thing it does is to assume that God is not strong enough to save us if we’re wrong, and makes salvation a matter of other people’s intervention rather than God’s. If my friend sins, and I don’t call him on it strongly enough, often enough, loudly enough, then it’s my fault if he goes to Hell. (And yet, I bear no responsibility if he cuts off all contact with me because all I ever did was criticize him.) Jesus’ death on the cross was not partial or conditional. It’s not only the sins you stop committing that you’re saved from. Yes, you’re supposed to repent when you know you’ve done wrong, and try to do better, but you *will not* become perfect in this life, nor are you expected to. Every human being on the planet dies with unrepented sins, and I doubt their salvation will hinge on whether someone gave them enough grief about one of the many things they did wrong.

This second bit also puts me in the position of supposedly knowing God better than my friend. Because sin is always supposed to be clear and black and white, despite the fact that the Bible is complicated, nuanced, and subject to a whole range of interpretations. But the assumption is not just that my interpretation is right, and I must educate my poor ill-informed friend, but that said friend has clearly not considered what the Bible says on the topic, clearly hasn’t prayed about it at all. It *must* be that I’m the virtuous defender, pointing out evil, and they’ve chosen to ignore God. It’s a nice story, but reality is more complex than that. Sincere Christians come to different conclusions about sin and morality *all the time.*

How about we don’t assume we’re judging rightly? Yes, call out wrong-doing when you see it, but be humble enough to accept that your view may be distorted. Accept, maybe, that other people have thought and prayed and wrestled with these things as much or more than you have. And accept that it’s not your job to drag them, kicking and screaming, down the path of righteousness.

I also find it interesting that the verses that support his politics (or kind of maybe do, if you squint) can be trotted out as “politically incorrect truths” that obviously apply across time and culture, but that a different standard applies to this one:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

A Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a happy one. Mine was very good. Hubby and I made dinner for both sets of parents. Actually, he mostly made dinner, and I mostly made dessert.

Not a word was said about calories, or who’s gaining or losing weight, or virtuous or sinful food. It was glorious.

The fact that our parents, who hadn’t seen each other since our wedding more than seven years ago, actually got a chance to spend time together was also fabulous. (And everybody got along!)

Now, if I can just figure out what to do with all this turkey, I’ll be set. We made turkey nachos for lunch yesterday, and had hot dogs for dinner. I’m thinking “no more than one turkey meal a day” is a good rule.

Mental illness is real. In other news, water is wet, and the earth revolves around the sun.

Apparently good Christians can’t get PTSD. Kenneth Copeland, on his show, told anyone with PTSD to just “get rid of it,” claiming that psychology and drugs weren’t necessary because God’s promises in the Bible will fix it.

I don’t have words for how evil it is to tell people to go off their psych meds and God will heal them, and if you aren’t healed you’re just not a good enough Christian. The phrase “lie straight from hell” comes to mind, though.

I guess I can sort of wrap my head around with Evangelical Christianity is so hostile to the mental health field. They seem to view it as both blasphemy and competition, trying to accomplish with science what’s reserved for God. And they don’t view mental illnesses as real illnesses. It’s seen as a soul problem, not a brain chemistry problem.

But all you have to do is look around to see that being a Christian doesn’t protect you from mental illness. Mother Theresa apparently suffered from pretty horrific depression. Martin Luther dealt with intrusive thoughts, which are a symptom of OCD or anxiety disorder. And if you go into any church, anywhere, you will see the same number of people with depression, or schizophrenia, or OCD, or severe phobias, as you do out in the rest of the world. At least, if you count the ones who *used* to go to that church, but were shunned because of their illness:

A 2008 survey conducted by Baylor psychology professor Matthew Stanford showed that 36 percent of mentally ill church attendees (and former church attendees) were told their mental illness was a product of their own sin, while 34 percent were told their illness was caused by a demon. Forty-one percent were told they did not really have a mental illness, and 28 percent were instructed to stop taking psychiatric medication.

I’d like to tell Kenneth Copeland to read the book of Job again. The guys who told the suffering man that his torment was his fault, caused by his sin, were no true friends. And he’s doing the same thing to people struggling with mental health issues. At least Job’s friends didn’t tell him to do things that would actively harm him, like Copeland’s advice to quit taking psych meds, which is a good way to end up suicidal.

I would also like to ask if he’d say the same thing to someone with cancer, that if they’re still sick, they must not have prayed hard enough. (I know there are people who really do believe that, but they seem to be a fringe even among evangelicals, where “pray away the depression” is much more mainstream.)

Real Food, Real Life

Michele, the Fat Nutritionist, has a fabulous post on why the idea of “real food” is problematic. She talks about how, for every food that’s viewed as unhealthy, worthless junk, there’s someone who depends on that food in one way or another.

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

I think this is hugely important and can’t be stated enough. People vary. People’s needs vary. And just trying to get yourself fed is hard work sometimes. Trying to navigate your own particular health stuff, combined with your preferences, your time and ability to cook, all the messages you get about food. It can be overwhelming. And then, after you’ve done the work of making what really is the best choice for you at the time, and someone takes you to task for that choice, it’s incredibly discouraging.

One time I was out for dinner with family, having recently decided to cut out alcohol (interferes with meds) and caffeine (screws up my blood pressure and ramps up my anxiety). Everybody else was getting beer or wine or soda, and I missed being able to have the occasional drink. So, I’m sitting there pondering what can I actually drink. I settle on ginger ale. And my mother-in-law makes a comment about how she’s not sure she can approve me drinking soda. (I didn’t snap back with “That’s why I didn’t ask you,” but it was tempting.)

I feel like that, in a nutshell, is a perfect summary of our screwed up food culture. It doesn’t matter how “good” I’m being in avoiding things that aren’t good for me, it’s never going to be enough for the self-appointed health police. And my mom-in-law wasn’t even being mean–it’s just such an accepted thing to judge and moralize about food that it was a completely natural comment for her to make.

Predictably, a bunch of commenters on Michele’s post wanted to distance themselves from judging people who kale or low sodium is going to make horribly ill, but still judge anyone who “could” eat better (for that commenter’s definition of “better” of course).

There are, of course, lots of problems with that. First and foremost, adult human beings get to decide what they want to put in their mouths, and someone who *can* eat organic, free-range, whole grain homemade everything is under no obligation to *want* to.

Secondly, “sick” and “healthy” are not binary conditions. Neither are “rich” and “poor.” There’s a whole spectrum of both. Just because someone won’t die if they eat kale doesn’t mean it may not give them a little indigestion. Just because someone makes more than minimum wage doesn’t mean they feel comfortable paying twice as much for organic, or buying fresh veggies that may spoil before they can use them.

A side piece of this is that lots of people move in and out of those conditions throughout their lives. They may go through periods of illness interspersed with periods of relative health. You can go from being a broke college kid to a comfortable white-collar professional to a suddenly unemployed professional living on ramen all over again.

And the messages you absorb stay with you. If you cross that border from well-off to poor, or from healthy to sick, there’s no switch in your brain you can flip to turn off all the guilt and moral judgment you’ve picked up around food.

And, last but not least, as Rachel Held Evans is fond of saying in a completely different context, if your gospel isn’t good news for those who are struggling, then it’s not really good news. If your food gospel doesn’t work for people who are broke, or stressed out, or sick, or tired, then it’s not really the one true way of eating, and perhaps you should stop trying to preach it to everyone who will listen.

The Fat Chick Works Out – Week 2 (ish)

So, back in July, I started up with The Fat Chick Works Out, and blogged a bit about Week 1. I got a lot of good walking done that week, totally 6.65 miles and 2.68 hours.

And then life happened. The week of the 22nd, I only walked once, and got all of 2 miles in. And I didn’t crack the book at all. I was working a bunch of extra hours and trying to get ready for Pennsic.

Pennsic itself was a workout in and of itself, despite the fact that I didn’t fight this year. I wasn’t keeping track, but because of how spread out everything is, I’m pretty confident that I walked at least a mile every day.

This past week, after getting back from Pennsic, was also kind of “meh” workout-wise. I only got in an hour and a half, and 3.72 miles.

So, now, it’s time to get back on the horse, with Week 2, Chapter 4. This week, the focus is on ramping up gradually. Key word being “gradually.” The overarching metaphor for the book is a baby bird breaking out of its shell and learning to fly. Where last week was about “life in the egg,” that is, living completely in your head and needing to learn to focus on your body, this week is about cracking that shell open, slowly and steadily.

A real, live chick can take anywhere from 1 to 24 hours to emerge from its shell. It may peck at that shell hundreds or even thousands of times until it makes a small hole. The chick then gradually works its way up to making that hole bigger and bigger. The chick needs to rest from time to time in order to make it through the ordeal. The mama hen can’t intervene and break the baby chick out. There is no shortcut. The process itself is essential. The struggle to hatch allows the chick to develop strength in its muscles that eventually will allow it to fly. So we are going to talk about increasing your weekly exercise, but just a little bit at a time. We’re going to allow you to rest from time to time. We’re going to show you how to build up your muscles and gain the strength to fly.”

In this chapter, Jeanette talks about her two failed attempts to run a marathon, before she got it on the third try. Both those early attempts ended with injury after she started ramping up too fast. She explains the concept of ramping up by a *maximum* of ten percent a week (either in duration, intensity, or frequency), and includes a handy chart for calculating how to up your workout duration in 10% increments.

She recommends focusing on time rather than distance because it’s easier to measure in small increments, and because the amount of exertion it takes to go a particular distance isn’t actually a constant: “One mile may feel like a 5 on the sweat scale on Tuesday and an 8 on the sweat scale on Friday. This means that you are technically changing two parameters at once.” That does make a ton of sense, since lots of factors can affect your energy level and therefore your intensity level—stress, sleep, weather, illness, time of day, etc.

The flip side of that, and the issue I have, is that if you’re walking outside, distance is much more easily controllable than time. In theory, I can pick a duration for my workout, track my time, and turn around when I reach my halfway point. *But* that assumes I’ll do the second half as fast as the first, which usually doesn’t happen. If I reach my stopping time before I reach my house, I’ll end up overshooting that time goal because I still have to get home.

To use duration rather than distance, I think I’d need to use a shorter route and repeat it. So, instead of “Walk a mile and turn around,” it might be “Walk a quarter mile, turn around, get home, turn around, and lather, rinse, repeat until I hit my time goal.” I can see that getting frustrating, both because of the repetition of scenery and because it’ll make it harder to track my mileage, which I do still want to keep track of.

So, my current plan is to try to keep both my weekly time and mileage within 10% of the previous week—or, if the previous week was a slacker week, 10% of the best week in the past 2-3 weeks.

Another key point was that you only ramp up if you feel pretty good with your current level of exercise. If you’re exhausted and sore, then it’s not time to ramp up yet. So, I think I’m going to try to track how I feel after each workout to see if I should be pushing it harder the next week. That’s going to be hard to determine, because between the sciatica, the general pissiness of my ankle, and the hypothyroid, it’s sometimes hard to tell if I feel crappy because I pushed too hard or for completely unrelated reasons. And, for that matter, even if it *is* one of the other issues, whether it’d be better to take it easy or push through.

To make things even more exciting, there’s a distinct possibility that I have fibromyalgia, so my pain tolerance and how my brain processes pain may just be screwed up. I’m not sure what to do with that information, though, because it’s not like I can be in the middle of a workout and say, “Oh, yes, I can tell that my ankle is screaming *just because* and I totally have another mile in me,” or “Yep, this is screwing up my ankle—time to stop now.”

So, what I’m hoping is that keeping the 10% factor in mind and keeping track of how I feel after each workout will help me avoid overdoing it.